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The Final Empire (Mistborn Trilogy 1) #BookReview

Title:
The Final Empire – The Mistborn Book One

Authors:
Brandon Sanderson

Genre:
Fantasy

Book procurement:
I was at Exclusive Books – Greenstone and saw the entire trilogy boxset on the shelf. So I did what an self-respecting book lover with some money did – impulsively buy it. No regrets.

Rating:

A heart-wrenching 5 out of 5

Synopsis:

In a world where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, an evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. The future of the empire rests on the shoulders of a troublemaker and his young apprentice. Together, can they fill the world with colour once more?
In Brandon Sanderson’s intriguing tale of love, loss, despair and hope, a new kind of magic enters the stage— Allomancy, a magic of the metals.

First Thoughts

I loved the magic system. I loved the characters. I loved the unexpected twists and turns and internal battles I fought with myself as I tried to figure out what would happen next and getting joyfully frustrated when that didn’t happen.

The book was recommended to me for so long that when the opportunity arose I took it up. I have no regrets. It begins slowly and begins to build and build and the come crashing down on you. I was looking at the last few pages and wondering how the story could be tied up with so few pages left and it was done so well. Really a great example of Sanderson’s story telling ability and one of his online classes come to life.

The Story

The story follows two distinct characters throughout the book. Kelsier, the leader of an infamous thieving crew who has escaped from hell to inact a very elaborate and impossible plan. Vin is a street urchin who discovers something amazing about herself and moves from the streets to Kelsier’s crew.

Around them is The Final Empire, a land where ash falls continuously around the city and mysterious mists swirl about at night. At its head is the immortal and powerful Lord Ruler who has established himself as god for centuries, the dark lord who rules with iron fist and nonchalance. Around the city and within are the citizens of The Final Empire; Skaa who are  fearful, low-spirited workers treated as nothing more than lowest of the low in society, and the Noblemen and Noblewomen who rule the Skaa, while living lavish lifestyles and protected by the Lord Ruler.

It’s a story of survival. Of love and friendship. Of overcoming odds and believing in something greater. It is at its core, a story of hope.

Writing

The writing is simple yet elegant and powerful. It moves you along between characters and perspectives, giving you different sides of the story as is necessary without giving away too much.

The characters are each distinct and easily identifiable. I loved all of them. Kelsier’s charismatic persona filled the perfect role of rebel leader who is a caring mentor with a scarred past (if you’ve read the book, see what I did there). We see the kind of man he is, flawed yet determined.

Vin is clearly a smart girl, and quite adept in her abilities. We see her grow from street urchin to quite a notable member of the crew. We are with her in her thoughts and deliberations, her emotions and actions, all of which build her up as a character that by the end of the book you understand why (even when its frustrating!) she does what she does.

Clubs, Ham, and Dockson may be minor characters but they have major roles in the entire story. Not only in their abilities and characteristics, but how they also show different sides of Kelsier and Vin.

Sazed was perfect as the caring and knowledgeable steward. His Feurchemist abilities make him distinct but it’s his well captured persona that truly makes him a valuable friend and partner to both Vin and Kelsier.

The fighting is so imaginative and well written that you can imagine the scene playing out. The whole Allomancy “magic” system (using metals to fuel a specific ability) are unique and masterfully captured. Sometimes the repetition seems too much but it also works as a reminder of how each ability works. The Pulling and Pushing, Soothing and Rioting, Smoking and Seeing. How weight and power affects each one differently and the thought of using a coin to push off the ground to jump higher – so awesome!

The Inquisitors send shivers down my spine, with metal rods in their eyes, super-healing and just general inhuman strength, like what the hell!

Final Thoughts

This was a fantastic book. Filled with adventure, magic, friendship, death, love, and so many twists and turns and frustrations and joys and so many good things. The world building was done really well, each character consistent and unique, the story flowing well between each scene and tying up really well. Even the little notes between each scene or chapter ties into the whole story, with a major twist right at the end that even I did not predict.

All in all I loved The Final Empire and am looking forward to the next two books. I think there’s a lot I could have said but that would include spoilers and I don’t want to do that. Great work Mr. Sanderson.


The Final Empire was published July 25th 2006.

Did you know: Brandon Sanderson offers lectures on writing? I’ve watched a few and some of the topics he covers I’ve seen implemented in Mistborn. You can find them here: 2016 Sanderson Lectures.

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The Priests of Psi – Frank Herbert #BookReview

Title:
The Priests of Psi

Authors:
Frank Herbert

Genre:
Science Fiction

Book procurement:
Bought this anthology in a heavily secured, highly stacked second-hand book store run by such a nice, though wary, old man. He looked like the gatekeeper to a secret library, awaiting the “Chosen One”.

Rating:

A mind-boggling 5 out of 5

Synopsis:

A psychic parasite who hijacks personalities.

A couple who discovers the house of their dreams … in the wrong dimension.

The priests of Psi, custodians of a forgotten wisdom which may exalt or damn mankind completely.

Five dazzling stories from one of science fiction’s masters

First Thoughts

Following the horrors of space in the last book I read Tales of Terror from Outer Space, I was expecting a lighter and perhaps more science-religious delve into the science fiction genre. And then I had an extremely vivid and emotional nightmare after reading the last story in the book. So… yeah.

Not at all what I was expecting and in a good way. Frank Herbert is a brilliant writer and articulates himself well. Each story was different from the other, with “space” being the bond that ties them all together. There is no horror, or not in its strictest sense. It’s the emotional and psychological horror of having your beliefs and ideas ripped apart by a story, while you’re undergoing emotional turmoil. And for me, that’s scary.

The Stories

Try to Remember!

A spaceship arrives on Earth. The aliens within send out representatives who speak in weird noises and make weird body movements. The reason: interpret the message or be eradicated. Thus the worlds greatest minds across the planet converge in an effort to make sense of the message.

The story is told from a woman’s perspective, who happens to be the only female in a room full of men. And desert sand. Really well written and a commentary on the different ways men and women think or rather, interpret the world around them. Women are the future!

Old Rambling House

This was an interesting story. Ted and Martha Graham live in a trailer, and are contacted by a couple willing to trade their house for the Graham’s trailer. Frank Herbert makes all of this believable in the sense that the couple was aware. Like they knew something was off, and when something seems to good to be true well…

Murder Will In

William Bailey is on his death bed, only he’s not William Bailey. Hasn’t been for the past 200 years or so because a parasite by the name of Tegas took over William’s consciousness and body. The Tegas has been body hopping for centuries, with one single powerful motivator – the emotions experienced by a murderer are the most thrilling. In that moment he hops from murdered to murderer and carries on life.

Fascinating concept isn’t it? Except this time William hasn’t been murdered and now the Tegas and his inner companion Bacit, must survive at all costs. What an amazing story. I could see it play out like a movie in my head. Not often you root for the alien… even when you know it’s a parasite. Odd.

Mindfield!

Ah. Humans. Such amazingly adaptive creatures. So in the far future, the earth is populated only by adults. I won’t tell you why since that would be a spoiler but there’s this psi-machine that “cleanses” the adult of everything and brings them back as effectively children. Your name becomes a variation of its original but never the original.

Priests and priestesses run the world. One is not allowed to dig anything in case one of the “Old-Machines” explode but of course there’s other reasons for that.

The story focuses on the head priest in control of the psi-machine, a rebel couple and their newly awakened partner, and an old-man who just came out of the psi-machine but is remembering too much. The shocking truth at the end is absolutely brilliant way of ending this story.

The Priests of Psi

Right, the final story centers around military man Lewis Orne who is an operator for the Investigation and Adjustment Agency. A hard man who has prevented countless wars from happening. Logical in every way. Which is why it comes as a shock when the religious Priest Planet, Amel, recruit him to be one of their disciples. The I-A, who have never been able to infiltrate the planet, send Orne as a spy. What follows is a psychological, emotional, spiritual journey he will never forget.

This story just messed with my mind. A planet encompassing every religion, all ascribing to one God, and explaining that miracles and other unexplained occurrences are the product of Psi. And Lewis Orne has this ability. What will that mean to a man who has rejected all forms of religion?

Writing

It’s quite interesting to see how each story is written so differently, set across different planes of reality, and each with their own commentary on us as humans.

Try To Remember has a very humanistic approach to it and in the style of writing. Focusing on the more real descriptions of the world, emotions, and frustrations seen through the eyes of the protagonist. It’s simple but the implications are quite massive. We tend to focus more on logic and less on emotion, as though “feelings” don’t have a role. When in truth, the body tells more truth than our words. It is also a commentary on how we as humans are never fully honest with each other, even if it threatens our existence. We must have some sort of power. Some kind of control. And we’ll remain uncooperative and mistrustful – not all of us of course but usually those in power *cough Government cough*.

Old Rambling House followed the same kind of writing. We are thrust into the world of a couple living in a trailer and hoping to get out. They are just regular people and it shows in their speech and in their encounter with something beyond their comprehension. More than that, they are stand-ins for a much larger story. A deeper complication with greater implications because of selfishness.

Murder Will In this one was again just human expression in an alien form. You see its fears and worries and hopes even though you know its a parasitic alien that thrives on the suffering of others to continue its own existence. Frank Herbert writes it in such a way that I was sympathizing with Tegas and Bacit and the many trapped conscious-es within. Herbert really knows how to capture emotion.

Mindfield! brings up the idea of forgetting the past and focusing only on the present under the guise of “Faith”. We know faith should be informed. Apart from that, the writing is quite fascinating. One of the characters is in a sense a relic and on the cusp of insanity so it’s amazing to see how they interact. Each person has their own voice and in the end the overall mystery is solved brilliantly.

The Priests of Psi broke my mind. This was a far more in-depth story. Lewis Orner is a fascinating character and so well written. You understand his fears, his worries, his skepticism and the gentle fraying of his mind when these opposing forces (science vs religion?) come against everything he knows and believes. There was also a really disturbing scene which probably fueled the nightmare I had while my mind was trying to decipher all the underlying meanings and suggestions this story was making. I’m still reeling.

Final Thoughts

It was a great little book with shifting perspectives and worlds. Top-notch world building, great, varying and believable characters, concepts that aren’t just about putting horror in someone but subtle ideas planted into your mind through cleverly veiled mysteries in a sci-fi setting.

 


The Priests of Psi was published January 1st 1981.

Did you know: Each of these stories appeared in different publications before being compiled into this anthology, the first being Old Rambling House in 1958.

Tales of Terror from Outer Space #BookReview

Title:
Tales of Terror From Outer Space

Authors:
Ray Bradbury, Ray Nelson, Robert Bloch, Brian W. Aldiss, Ralph Williams, Sydney J. Bounds, Robert Presslie, Charles Barkin, Bob Shaw, Arthur Porges, Claude Veillot, Robert Sheckley, Arthur C. Clarke, R Chetwyn-Hayes

Genre:
Horror/Science Fiction

Book procurement:
Bought this anthology in a heavily secured, highly stacked second-hand book store run by such a nice, though wary, old man. He looked like the gatekeeper to a secret library, awaiting the “Chosen One”.

Rating:

A gripping 5 out of 5

Synopsis:

Outer Space – where in the dark mists of infinity lurk alien creatures from far-flung galaxies. Weird monsters like…

The vamipre girl from Mars. The spaceship manned by living corpses

The hideous giant trapped by time. The lump of intelligent jelly. The huge insects that overran the earth.
Space-age horror comes down to earth in these chilling stories by such famous writers as Ray Bradbury, Brain Aldiss, Robert Bloch and Arthur C. Clarke.

First Thoughts

I am on a quest to read as many classic works by famous horror/science fiction/ fantasy authors as possible. While also under tight budget during this Janu-worry period. So it was quite fortunate that I found this gem. (Along with The Priests of Psi by Frank Herbert which will probably be next week’s review)

I started reading the book almost immediately after I got it. (I was waiting for Ole and Elliot for once) The first story by Ray Bradbury affected me for hours afterwards. Haunted. That’s what I can say about not just that story but all that followed. Haunted. *Shivers

The Stories

I, Mars – Ray Bradbury

We are thrown right into the deep end with a beautifully written, nostalgic and mentally-distressing tale of a man forgotten on the planet Mars. There are no aliens or anything of the sort, just the thought-provoking concept of solitude and how far one will go to overcome loneliness. With very creepy personas leading the way. *Shivers

Eight O’Clock in the Morning – Ray Nelson

Ray Nelson is a known science-fiction writer and cartoonist. This story is one of his most noted works which famous director, John Carpenter, turned into the film They Live. Although the film took creative-liberty to extend the story, it does not change the immense psychological effect it has. Basically the entire human race is under the influence of reptilian aliens who use subliminal hypnosis to keep humans under control. On the TV. On the radio. They are everywhere… and one man wakes up from the illusion and into the horror. Turn off your TVs and phones kids.

Side note: I was playing the new rendition of DmC: Devil May Cry and its basically Nelson’s story but with demons. It wasn’t even influenced Nelson’s story or idea and it was created decades after his short story. Could this be an underlying human fear?

Girl from Mars – Robert Bloch

This one wasn’t so scary. The owner of a travelling circus meets a very, very beautiful girl who claims to be from Mars. Its her first time on earth and in his ignorance of her statement, hopes to take advantage of that situation.

Heresies of the Huge God – Brian W. Aldiss

The human psyche is always one that fascinates me. Especially when it comes from a religious world-view. This story is in essence the writings of a new “prophet” sort of St. Paul’s Letter to the… kind of thing. Only it speaks of the Huge God who appears on Earth suddenly and how people react to this startling new entity with religious zealousness.

The Head Hunters – Ralph Williams

The idea of game hunting is probably as old as time. We’ve all seen that gross act (though some people may argue against that) of hunting an animal and placing its severed head on a wall as a trophy. Now imagine Earth was the playground of an alien race who claimed humanity to be their game – and their heads as trophies. Very Predator don’t you think?

Not that scary in the end but a good read. Human ignorance never ceases to amaze me.

The Animators – Sydney J. Bounds

The silent invasion we never see coming begins with a group of scientists exploring the surface of Mars. After a peculiar accident, the dead come to life on the red planet. How will the sole survivor fair against the animated corpses of his fellow crew members? *Shivers

It is a well written, though with very surface story-telling (because it’s a short story) but has deeper ramifications when one starts to think too deeply about what happens.

The Night of the Seventh Finger – Robert Presslie

There are very few stories of aliens that elicit empathy from us. The usual reaction is fear and/or disgust. This particular story plays on multiple emotions as we are given the “alien’s” perspective as well as of the girl walking through the dark who gets picked up by the seven-fingered creature. The ending makes me shake-fists at the irony of it all. With a touch of sadness.

No More for Mary – Charles Birkin

Toby Lewis is a writer on a holiday who finds an obscure creature in his garden. A bug of sorts with the most captivating skin and a single gleaming eye. Knowing his sister  is a renowned entomologist, he captures the creature and hopes to give it to her as a gift. But of course this is no bug.

Charles Birkin’s writing style is fluid and expressive. The detail he paints is gorgeous. Beyond that the story itself intertwines two unconnected creatures into a chance meeting. Coincidence? I think not.

Invasion of Privacy – Bob Shaw

Imagine you’re sitting at the table, and you seven-year-old son states he saw your wife’s grandmother at the old “haunted” house. Only she’s been dead for two weeks. This is how this short story begins and what unfolds is a tale of terror and reflective poignancy as the father seeks out the truth. What he finds may have far-reaching consequences… and not the deep-space kind.

The Ruum – Arthur Porges

*Shivers

An alien crew forget their “Ruum” on a primitive planet. Billions of years before the start of man-kind. In the age-of-man, Jim travels to the Canadian Rockies on an expedition. There he meets a bizarre creature that begins to chase him.

I can’t give away too much but there is a logical reasoning for all of this, and one of those obscure endings that hit you later like  “Ooohhh!!” Arthur Porges you devious man. I was holding my breath the entire read!

The First Days of May – Claude Veilliot

Nooooooo!

Can that just be my review? No? Okay. So. Giant Praying-Mantis like creatures appear on earth and practically decimate the population with their shrill-like screaming and razor-blade forearms-and legs. We follow a survivor who has kept himself hidden in his apartment, waiting for his wife. Hoping for her return. Eventually he leaves the house to search for her and what unfolds is just pure horror. Will I ever sleep again?

Specialist – Robert Sheckley

This was a weird one. Like. Weird. The story revolves around an alien crew made up of various… body parts? that have learned to co-exist as the universe intended. As in Eye is practically just an eye. Engine is a creature who is an engine. Walls are actual walls etc. And they are all sentient, cognitive beings designed by the universe to be exactly what they are. They are also the Ship, each one with a specific role in their interstellar travels. Unfortunately the storm has forced them to find a new crew member… on Earth.

Its peculiar because these beings are so normal in their “human” behaviour while being completely alien in every way. Underlying this whole story, we actually delve once again into the human mind and how our behaviour is so… uncooperative.

Great insight.

No Morning After – Arthur C. Clarke

Trust Arthur C. Clarke to come up with this perfectly normal and yet exceedingly frustrating and true reflection of us as humans. An alien ship is trying to communicate with earth to deliver an incredibly important message. With all the billions of people, the message reaches the most stubborn drunk fool with morbidly accurate reactions to the telepathic voices in his head providing the warning.

I think the protagonist is right in many aspects. To our shame as humans. Just think about it. Imagine you’re the only human on Earth who hears a message from aliens… how would the world perceive you even if you were right?

PS: This story was so affecting, I actually had a dream about something similar… and it was the most heart-wrenching, mind-shattering dream ever. I may even turn it into a story!

Shipwreck – R. Chetwynd-Hayes

How fitting that the last story in the anthology is also about an invasion. A silent one. A scary one. An asteroid crash lands on earth and a gelatinous substance escapes. It is able to break-down any living thing and assume its traits… almost perfectly. The living creature turning to ash on the spot. Then it spots a bipedal on a motorcycle.

*Shivers

Writing

The writing obviously varies from author to author. Some are quite straightforward in their telling while others use strong descriptive language to captive more than just the mental process of reading, but the visual too. However many of them touch on that one important aspect: Humans.

We’ve built up so many defenses in our minds, negating the very idea of “what if it’s true”. Despite all the movies and books and series and documentaries on the possibility of aliens. There’s just a part of us that doesn’t want to accept it. And it is this idea that makes these stories so much more riveting. So much more frightening. So much more… insightful.

Final Thoughts

I love the underlying meaning in every story. Beyond the fear that your neighbour, or your teacher, or your pet could be an alien in disguise – awaiting its orders to subjugate the human race. Or that we are even worth saving if an alien race realised a star is about to explode and they are our last hope. Will we willing jump aboard their vessels or will we assume the worst of them and begin a war. (Ah war… the bane of humanity.)

Just how we think as humans. Our egos. Our fears. Our oh-so-clever brains that logically make us think ourselves superior on every level. The center of the universe. But as one of the characters in the anthology said “probably the one about praying mantes”,

“Establish communication? Do we ever think to establish communication with an ant before we take a boot to the anthill? What if to them, we’re the ants? Do you still think they’ll establish communication?” ~ paraphrased but you get the gist right?

Isn’t that a scary thought?


Tales of Terror from Outer Space was published May 15th 1975.

The King in Yellow – Robert W. Chambers #BookReview

Title:
The King in Yellow and Other Stories

Author:
Robert W. Chambers

Genre:
Horror/Weird Fiction

Book procurement:
Obtained a copy from The Project Gutenberg

Rating:

A pleasant 3 out of 5

Synopsis:

“Every story of The King in Yellow has something riveting about it … so perfectly realized, they became the model for much of twentieth-century horror/fantasy.” — New York Press
One of the most important works of American supernatural fiction since those of Poe, The King in Yellow was among the first attempts to establish the horror of the nameless and the unimaginable. A treasured source used by almost all the significant writers in the American pulp tradition — H. P. Lovecraft, A. Merritt, Robert E. Howard, and many others — it endures as a work of remarkable power and one of the most chillingly original books in the genre.
This collection reprints all the supernatural stories from The King in Yellow, including the grisly “Yellow Sign,” the disquieting “Repairer of Reputations,” the tender “Demoiselle d’Ys,” and others. Robert W. Chambers’ finest stories from other sources have also been added, such as the thrilling “Maker of Moons” and “The Messenger.” In addition, an unusual pleasure awaits those who know Chambers only by his horror stories: three of his finest early biological science-fiction fantasies from In Search of the Unknown appear here as well.

First Thoughts

I’m a Stephen King fan. I’ve read my share of Edgar Allen Poe. Fawned over H.P. Lovecraft. All of them influenced in some way by Robert W. Chambers from Stephen King’s Crimson King in The Dark Tower series to mention of the Yellow Sign in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in the Darkness. Once I learned of these correlations, it is obvious I would read the very man who influenced the writers who influenced me.

So I was expecting something of profound darkness and fear and instead  was greeted by a good dose of weird fiction. The title of this book is also the name of the book appearing in most of the short stories contained within the anthology; a fictional play called The King in Yellow. It reminds me of the “Necronomicon” where madness proceeds those that either read through it or research its contents. The first few stories had me begging for more while the remaining stories moved from the weird and into character development.

This book (the Necronomicon) was also the inspiration for my Wattpad horror novella Faux.

The Story

The Repairer of Reputations

A fascinating story to kick off the weirdness in the collection. A man is drawn towards a recluse whose business is repairing the reputation of those in society. While there is much scorn for this Repairer, out protagonist Constance finds much fascination in the man and the journal he keeps. One that causes deep paranoia and abject egotism in Constance, all of which relate to The King. Yes, that king.

The Mask

The story begins with an excerpt from the play The King in Yellow Act I, Scene 2. From then we delve into the lives of Alec, Boris, and Geneviève where Alex and Boris are artists (sculptors). Boris finds a peculiar substance that can transform live objects into pure, detailed marble works. At the same time there is romance and art revolving around the three. Beautiful and mesmerising.

In The Court of the Dragon

Ah this was one of my favourite stories. A man is in a church and spots a perculiar organist who begins to haunt him. He fears the man is after his soul. You get a sense of fear and paranoia as he seeks to escape what he feels is certain fate.

The Yellow Sign

Another one that prickled my sense of paranoia (are you getting the theme yet?) where an artist (this too) finds himself haunted by vivid dreams and a sinister, bizarre churchyard watchman who resembles a maggot. There is also some romance involved.

The Demoiselle D’YS

Yeah… So I had to translate a lot of words from French to English to understand some of the words being used here but a lot of the story can be read without needing to fully understand the romantic language. The story also contains a lot of references to The King in Yellow although no actual reference to the book is used. Romance builds very quickly in what I can only describe as a ghost story.

The Prophets’ Paradise

Beautifully written short prose pieces that speak of love and death and beauty, all drawn from a quote within the King in Yellow.

The Street of the Four Winds

This was a unique story that did not involve art (but an artist) or romance but a cat. Yes a feline stops at the door of Severn and he seeks to take care of it while looking for its owner. The end takes an interesting morbid twist.

The Street of the First Shell

A poignant tale set in Paris during the Paris Seige of 1870 as bombs drop and a poverty stricken city do what they can to survive. Protagonist Jack cares for his sickly wife who worries dearly about him leaving the house at night while bombs drop from the sky. Nothing weird or horrific in this tale in terms of the supernatural, but only of the horrors of romance.

The Street of Our Lady of the Fields / Rue Barrèe

More sentimental, moving stories of love and romance set in Paris and among artists coming from America to be art students in the city. A story with an assortment of fascinating characters and a bohemian lifestyle. Gorgeous setting and character development.

Writing

Beyond the weird and the paranoia and assortment of artists practicing their art in Paris, the writing itself is vivid and descriptive. Enough to give form to each character you meet and delving into each of their personas with clarity. Allowing you to feel their heartbreaks, their paranoia and all the emotions they experience. Chamber’s writing style flows eloquently and at the same time almost disjointed. Reflecting the very way  people speak and think despite what our contemporaries might deem grammatically incorrect.

Deep reflective writing if I have read any.

Final Thoughts

While the content of the short stories were not exactly what I was expecting, there is no denying the beauty of Chamber’s writing style and ability to create such well detailed characters. As though he himself were observing these very people and writing of them in their presence. I glean some of that Stephen King character development style, understanding the influence may extend beyond the embodiment of evil known as the Crimson King.

I won’t say I enjoyed the book for its horror, but the ideas were unique and wide spread and the writing masterful.


The King in Yellow was published in 1895/1970.

Did you know: Lovecraft borrowed Chambers’ method of only vaguely referring to supernatural events, entities, and places, thereby allowing his readers to imagine the horror for themselves. The play The King in Yellow effectively became another piece of occult literature in the Cthulhu Mythos alongside the Necronomicon and others.

Memorable Books

I was going to post the book review for C.L. Polk’s debut novella, Witchmark, but then I remembered that it first has to appear in our next issue of Gamecca Magazine first which means it will have to wait until next month. It’s a contract thing. Anyway while I’m still working through Robert W. Chambers’ The King In Yellow for the next review (I’m halfway through don’t worry), I thought perhaps I should talk about books for today.


There’s this part of me that wishes I had impeccable memory and can recall the contents of a book thoroughly enough to sound… well like a scholar. I know it sounds pretentious but have you heard people talk about books like they were literally living in them? Character names. Places. Events. Linking scenes and quotes between books to draw revelations I would have otherwise completely missed. I want that ha ha. Although in my defense, I spent way too much of my youth reading Stephen King so I could probably do that with a couple of his books (looks at the collection of The Dark Tower novels).

Memorable Books

While I may lack that ability to fully recount a book’s contents, here are some memorable books I’ve read over the years that I remember well and still think of to this day. Some I can draw correlations across other books while others just changed my worldview:

1. The Program – Gregg Hurwitz

The Program Gregg Hurwitz

2. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

3. Kill Baxter – Charlie Human

4. Once – James Herbert

5. Endgame – James Frey, Nils Johnson-Shelton

6. The Bachman Books – Stephen King as Richard Bachman

7. Books of Blood – Clive Barker

8. Beyond the Pale – Mark Anthony

9. Three – Ted Dekker

10. Ready Player One – Ernest Cline


Do you have any books that have stuck in your mind or you still recall to this day? Perhaps any book that changed your mind, thoughts, world view?

Aaru – David Meredith #BookReview

Title:
Aaru

Author:
David Meredith

Genre:
Science Fantasy

Book procurement:
Received a copy of the book from the author for an honest review

Rating:

A promising 3 out of 5

Synopsis:

“…Death and the stillness of death are the only things certain and common to all in this future…”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Rose is dying. Her body is wasted and skeletal. She is too sick and weak to move. Every day is an agony and her only hope is that death will find her swiftly before the pain grows too great to bear.

She is sixteen years old.

Rose has made peace with her fate, but her younger sister, Koren, certainly has not. Though all hope appears lost Koren convinces Rose to make one final attempt at saving her life after a mysterious man in a white lab coat approaches their family about an unorthodox and experimental procedure. A copy of Rose’s radiant mind is uploaded to a massive super computer called Aaru – a virtual paradise where the great and the righteous might live forever in an arcadian world free from pain, illness, and death. Elysian Industries is set to begin offering the service to those who can afford it and hires Koren to be their spokes-model.

Within a matter of weeks, the sisters’ faces are nationally ubiquitous, but they soon discover that neither celebrity nor immortality is as utopian as they think. Not everyone is pleased with the idea of life everlasting for sale.
What unfolds is a whirlwind of controversy, sabotage, obsession, and danger. Rose and Koren must struggle to find meaning in their chaotic new lives and at the same time hold true to each other as Aaru challenges all they ever knew about life, love, and death and everything they thought they really believed.

First Thoughts

The last book I read written by David Meredith was a Snow White retelling, or rather post Snow White, written in beautiful, flowing tones reflecting the fantastical fairy tale world. This book moves across that genre slightly to a more modern, science based world. The difference in style caught me off guard when I started reading. I didn’t know what to expect for the remainder of the book. After a rather slow start it started to pick up towards the end and into a brilliant end.

Also, I liked the references to real life characters and places, altered for copyright reasons I’m sure. Jonas Perry – I see what you did there Mr Meredith.

The Story

The story focuses on two main characters. Rose is sick and dying. Her hope comes one day in the form of a virtual paradise called Aaru, built by Elysian Industries (side note: Elysian means relating to or characteristic of heaven or paradise). Koren is Rose’s younger sister who looks up to her older sister and hates seeing Rose on her deathbed. Once Rose is sent to Aaru, she becomes the spokesperson for Aaru as the grief stricken sister who can still be with her now virtually immortal sister.

What begins as a beautiful after life for both sisters, they soon learn to come to grips with the various aspects of their new lives. Rose in the virtual world questions what it all is. Koren realises that being a celebrity is not all its made to be.

Lastly, there comes an intense danger to both sisters that completely rocks the very foundation of their new lives. I want to say more but it will become a spoiler so…

Writing

Initially the book was a bit slow. In a sense boring, and as much as I understand it was Mr. Meredith’s way of getting us to know the characters, some of it felt a little to drawn out. In my opinion we spent too much time with Rose in hospital, though I guess it helped to ground me in the idea that she was practically hopeless. Which makes the introduction of Aaru all the more compelling both to me as a reader, and to Rose as the recipient.

While I appreciated the slight references to real world characters (Jonas Perry, Ronaldo Casillas etc), it also ruined the illusion that this particular story is taking place on “this” Earth or “this” reality. It’s nothing major but it did distract me because in my head I kept changing in-book characters with their actual real-life counterparts.

 

The real story here in Aaru, despite the whole thing with Koren and Rose, is this idea of life after death. There were some religious crazies making appearances, questioning the whole idea of God, and how Elysian Industries is in a sense playing God. Elysian then states they are not playing God, but rather providing a platform where those who are about to die can continue to live on in their virtual world. In Aaru. But… are they really living though?

Unfortunately with these kinds of books, Christians are never depicted as anything other than ignorant idiots believing some old tome with religious zealousness that has no actual understanding of God. Using the bible as a means to justify their unjustified beliefs. Its an unfair portrayal and one held by too many people. Sadly, sometimes its true. (End Rant)

From the Christian perspective of not just reading the bible but learning of God’s character and our role (humans) as His creation, the soul cannot be downloaded into a computer. The mind? Sure. It is data after all.  The question all these Sci-fi kinds of stories ask is: Is the mind extracted into data, living as a remnant of the actual person, the person themselves? Or are they merely mind-data acting as data is expected to, in light of the tons of memories stored in hard drives, defining who they, as the “mind-data”, are supposed to be? I think of Transcendence with Johnny Depp.

 

Final Thoughts

Once I got through to halfway in the book, the whole story dynamic changed. It changed in the sense that there was finally some action. It’s all good and well to read about a soccer match straight out of Inazuma Eleven or Shaolin Soccer or reading about people flying and creating mansions (oh the biblical references in this book), and the romance building up, but all of this is the fluff around the real story. The story which is the idea of life after death, as explained above, but also the privacy and safety of being a celebrity.

The second half turned into a brilliant thriller and I loved every part after that. If the book had started out this way, I might have enjoyed it better. There were some uncomfortable scenes, necessary for the story, and this second half just didn’t hold back at all. To that, I give Mr. Meredith great credit.

All in all, if the second book (which is part of the first book in the Aaru Cycle) continues where this book ends off, I’ll be very happy.


Aaru was published July 9th, 2017.

Did you know: David Meredith teaches English in the Nashville area. This is his second published book.

About Author

David Meredith is a writer and educator originally from Knoxville, Tennessee. He received both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts from East Tennessee State University, in Johnson City, Tennessee. He received his Doctorate in Educational Leadership (Ed.D.) from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee. On and off, he spent nearly a decade, from 1999-2010 teaching English in Northern Japan, but currently lives with his wife and three children in the Nashville Area where he continues to write and teach English.

Author Page: DavidMeredithWriting


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The Desert Spear #BookReview

Title:
The Desert Spear – Demon Cycle #2

Author:
Peter V. Brett

Genre:
Fantasy

Book procurement:
Bought a copy from Exclusive Books – Greenstone

Rating:

Tedious 3 out of 5

Synopsis:

The sun is setting on humanity. The night now belongs to voracious demons that prey upon a dwindling population forced to cower behind half-forgotten symbols of power.

Legends tell of a Deliverer: a general who once bound all mankind into a single force that defeated the demons. But is the return of the Deliverer just another myth? Perhaps not.

Out of the desert rides Ahmann Jardir, who has forged the desert tribes into a demon-killing army. He has proclaimed himself Shar’Dama Ka, the Deliverer, and he carries ancient weapons–a spear and a crown–that give credence to his claim.

But the Northerners claim their own Deliverer: the Warded Man, a dark, forbidding figure.

Once, the Shar’Dama Ka and the Warded Man were friends. Now they are fierce adversaries. Yet as old allegiances are tested and fresh alliances forged, all are unaware of the appearance of a new breed of demon, more intelligent—and deadly—than any that have come before.

Book Review:

First Thoughts

I had high expectation for this second book in the Demon Cycle series. Especially since the fifth book “The Core” was announced this year. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. The first book was absolutely brilliant in my opinion. I looked forward to seeing Arlen embrace his destiny.

The Story

The story is broken up into two parts, with the third becoming a clash of the first two. We are introduced to Ahmann Jardir as both a young boy torn from his family,  and as the Shar’Dama Ka (The Deliverer) who looks to conquer the world to fight the demons. We see how he becomes the Shar’Dama Ka, and understand why he raids the lands conquering.

The second half of the story brings back Arlen as the Warded Man, and to the people in North, the Deliverer. He himself hates this name. Nonetheless he does what he has to, to arm the people so they may fend of the demons by themselves. We also meet the previous cast as they have grown into their roles. Leesha has taken over for Bruna and runs Deliverer’s Hollow as their Herb Gatherer. Gared Cutter has become a formidable demon hunter. Rojer continues his role as Jongeleur and remains at Leesha’s side while Arlen travels. And many others come together.

The story also revolves around this idea of the Deliverer, the chosen one who will unite mankind in their battle against the demons, yet as you may have gathered, there can only be one Deliverer. Is it Jadir or is it Arlen?

Then we have the Demon Princes who have risen from the core, and take in the proceedings from the outskirts. Waiting. Watching. Learning.

Writing

The writing is slow and tedious in most parts, where we focus on the individual lives of the main cast, mainly Jadir, Leesha and Arlen (also views at others – like Abban – who will play a role later in their lives including a cast from Tibbets Brooke and various duchy). Not that this is a bad thing, but compared to the first book it feels like reading side arcs that have some relevance to the bigger story but not the most important.

The writing also tends to be repetitive, where we watch a scene twice but from different people’s perspectives but with nothing new but the new character’s thoughts during the scene.

The fighting was epic, even though some fights seemed to be taken for granted because, well, you can’t go into in-depth action with every fight scene.

The characters were well written and remain consistent throughout this new book. Demon magic and its use has been expanded to show how the people have started to move from helpless demon-fearing fodder to a formidable force. Character growth.

Final Thoughts

It wasn’t my favourite book, and I am unsure whether or not I will complete the series. The whole book felt drawn out and I was reading just to finish rather than to enjoy. It wasn’t bad either so I can’t say I hated it, even though there were times I was sure I did. If I do read the next book (which I own) I hope it will be better.


The Desert Spear was published April 13th, 2010. (How long have I had these books o_o)

Did you know: Peter V. Brett also wrote the Red Sonja: Unchained graphic novel for Dynamite Comics.


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Brother’s Ruin – Book Review

Title:
Brother’s Ruin

Author:
Emma Newman

Genre:
Historical/ Fantasy

Book procurement:
Received a copy for Gamecca Magazine from Tor.com.

Rating:

Fascinating 4 out of 5

Synopsis:

The year is 1850 and Great Britain is flourishing, thanks to the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. When a new mage is discovered, Royal Society elites descend like buzzards to snatch up a new apprentice. Talented mages are bought from their families at a tremendous price, while weak mages are snapped up for a pittance. For a lower middle class family like the Gunns, the loss of a son can be disastrous, so when seemingly magical incidents begin cropping up at home, they fear for their Ben’s life and their own livelihoods.

But Benjamin Gunn isn’t a talented mage. His sister Charlotte is, and to prevent her brother from being imprisoned for false reporting she combines her powers with his to make him seem a better prospect.

When she discovers a nefarious plot by the sinister Doctor Ledbetter, Charlotte must use all her cunning and guile to protect her family, her secret and her city.

Brother’s Ruin is the first in a new gaslamp fantasy series by Emma Newman.

Book Review:

First Thoughts

Well to be honest the novella had me at Gaslamp. I mean, I’m a big steampunk fan (next to horror) and when I think gaslamp and fantasy, I get excited. Especially with the interesting synopsis from the book. I was actually looking forward to it. Only it’s not really about the fantasy or the gaslamp or the mages in the end. It’s not even, really, about the brother either. Not completely.

The Story

We follow Charlotte Gunn, a multi-talented woman who must live her life as a “woman must be seen not heard” kind of world. She witnesses how mages are recruited by the Royal Society, at the same time understanding how many see being recruited as a privilege. When Benjamin, her brother, is deemed to be a mage, Charlotte does what she can to prove them right, hiding her own abilities. Only everything spirals out of control as secrets are spilled and it puts Charlotte, her family, and her city into jeopardy.

It’s a story of sacrifice. Of political intrigue. It’s drama as Charlotte tries to balance the conflicting forces in her life, especially when it comes to her family and the secrets that come to the fore. The story ends on a cliffhanger, which sets up the Industrial Magic series well.

 

 

Writing

 

The writing was great. Elegantly put down in a way that reflects Charlotte Gunn’s personality (and the fact that she’s a woman). The magic is fascinating, and the fantasy inspired Great Britain makes for a dark, twisted world.

We are introduced to Charlotte Gunn first. Immediately we get a sense that there is more to her than meets the eye. She’s a strong, independent woman effectively born in the wrong era. Or at least that’s what I get from the book. She has to live in false pretense because the world she lives in does not see women as very important. Makes sense considering the Victorian Era theme of the book.

Benjamin wants to do what is best for his family, wanting to protect his sister too. Only he has failing health which makes working difficult. So when the Royal Society wants to recruit him, he does what any guilt riddled brother would do. Accept.

The remaining characters in the story are also fascinating. Such as Doctor Ledbetter, Magus Hopkins and other well written characters in the book.

Final Thoughts

From a storytelling perspective, Brother’s Ruin is a great delve into the struggles of a powerful woman who is made less powerful by her situation. Where she hopes to overcome through sacrifice and determination.

The worldbuilding is great, and I was transported into that dark Victorian era where no one can be trusted.

The characters are all distinct and have been well written to reflect both the times and their situations. From the parents who just want the best and will do what they can, to the representatives of the  Royal Society.

No doubt I enjoyed it, and would definitely read the rest of the series.


Brother’s Ruin was published March 14th, 2017.

Did you know: Emma Newman is a professional audiobook narrator and also co-writes and hosts the Hugo-nominated podcast ‘Tea and Jeopardy’


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Agents of Dreamland – Book Review

 

Title:
Agents of Dreamland

Author:
Caitlín R. Kiernan

Genre:
Lovecraftian Horror

Book procurement:
Received a copy for Gamecca Magazine from Tor.com.

Synopsis:

A government special agent known only as the Signalman gets off a train on a stunningly hot morning in Winslow, Arizona. Later that day he meets a woman in a diner to exchange information about an event that happened a week earlier for which neither has an explanation, but which haunts the Signalman.

In a ranch house near the shore of the Salton Sea a cult leader gathers up the weak and susceptible—the Children of the Next Level—and offers them something to believe in and a chance for transcendence. The future is coming and they will help to usher it in.

A day after the events at the ranch house which disturbed the Signalman so deeply that he and his government sought out help from ‘other’ sources, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory abruptly loses contact with NASA’s interplanetary probe New Horizons. Something out beyond the orbit of Pluto has made contact.

And a woman floating outside of time looks to the future and the past for answers to what can save humanity.

Book Review:

First Thoughts

To be honest I did not know what to expect from this book when I got my review copy for Gamecca Magazine from Tor. I had never heard of Caitlín R. Kiernan and that synopsis said a lot but nothing close to what the novella explores. In the end I was pleasantly surprised… okay I really enjoyed the book and look forward to more.

The Story

This is an interconnected story that follows mainly three sets of characters:

Signalman is a government agent assigned to a peculiar case that continues to haunt him. Even as he proceeds to a diner where he has a meet up with a mysterious woman. They exchange valuable information that only escalates the situation. He moves forward with the hope of figuring out exactly what he saw inside a particular ranch.

Immaculata is a woman searching for humanity’s last hope against an approaching, devastating event. She floats between time, searching for an answer.

Salton Sea is the current home of Drew Standish, a cult leader, and his followers known as Children of the Next Level. The Children seek to usher in a new future as they transcend beyond humanity.

Lastly, something beyond the orbit of Pluto has made contact with NASA’s interplanetary probe, New Horizons.

Writing

To say my mind is so blown, I’m deeply disturbed, is an understatement. The writing is solid. Each characters has a distinct and personal voice. There is no unnecessary drivel to distract from the unfolding story, which eventually meets in the middle beautifully, then rides off into the sunset, leaving you bewildered and unbelieving of what just happened.

There is a lot of shifting perspectives, as you can imagine, with all the characters giving a different view of the ongoing events. From Signalman, who is the investigator, to the Drew Standish and one particular child of The Children, who has disturbing insights of what is to come, to Immaculata, the seeker of salvation and something a little more.

There is also a switch in timeliness literally between sentences. Sometimes it was off putting, but Caitlín did a good job of not losing me or my focus between these switches.  Thankfully, they show a wider, more comprehensive perspective on the bigger picture revealing itself into some mind-blowing stuff. *shivers.

There is also a very obvious Lovecraftian style to the writing, more towards the combination of science, bible, conspiracy, and a real, obvious entity we never truly see. I loved how Caitlín uses conspiracy theories (The Beatles’ music, Apple Records, Yggdrasil, Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – basically APPLES), and parts of foreshadowing (Signalman watches a movie as a child, but misses a very important scene – also, this is not a spoiler), to build this world around the story.

It’s brilliant.

Final Thoughts

I have a love/hate relationship for Signalman. I’m deeply intrigued with Immaculata and her time-travel abilities (or whatever they are). Drew Standish is that charismatic type I would also probably follow, although I’d hate to be part of his particular cult (or any cult in general… the bad cults.) Together, they tell a compelling story. It’s a great novella which puts Caitlín R. Kiernan at the top of my favourite authors.

Rating: A well deserved 5 out of 5


Agents of Dreamland was published on February 28, 2017.

Did you know: Caitlín R. Kiernan wrote scientific papers in the field of paleontology, has written for DC Comics, and has over two hundred short stories, novellas, and vignettes published.


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Book Review: The Ghost Line

The Ghost Line Andrew Neil Gray & J.S. Herbison

Title:

The Ghost Line

Author:

Andrew Neil Gray, J.S. Herbison

Genre:

Sci-Fi

Book procurement:

Received a copy for Gamecca Magazine from Tor.com.

Synopsis:

The luxury cruise ship the Martian Queen was decommissioned years ago, set to drift back and forth between Earth and Mars on the off-chance that reclaiming it ever became profitable for the owners. For Saga and her husband Michel the cruise ship represents a massive payday. Hacking and stealing the ship could earn them enough to settle down, have children, and pay for the treatments to save Saga’s mother’s life.

But the Martian Queen is much more than their employer has told them. In the twenty years since it was abandoned, something strange and dangerous has come to reside in the decadent vessel. Saga feels herself being drawn into a spider’s web, and must navigate the traps and lures of an awakening intelligence if she wants to go home again.

Book Review:

First Thoughts

The synopsis paints quite a fascinating picture doesn’t it. I remember describing it as a “what if” Titanic story intermingled with the sentient aura of the Overlook Hotel from Stephen King’s The Shining. It’s nothing like that at all. From the get go, you get a sense of character focus, where it’s more about the crew than it is about the ship itself. The ship becoming a means to an end, leading to character growth.

The Story

The story follows Saga and Michel, a husband and wife hacker team. With them is Gregor, the pilot of their ship the Sigurd. The crew is hired by the mysterious Wei to recapture a luxury cruise spaceship named the Martian Queen. Once a prosperous liner travelling between Mars and Earth, the ship has been decommissioned for twenty years and floats through space between the two planets. The ship is still in tact and seems the perfect score, perhaps too perfect. But the pay will set Saga and Michel for life, and allow Saga to pay for her mother’s medical fees.

However, once inside the ship they realize they may have bitten off more than they can chew. The ships A.I. appears to be defunct, but unexplained phenomena begin to occur. Lights coming on. The casino abuzz with figures who once roamed the ship. It becomes clear to the crew, especially Saga, that not all is as it seems.

Writing

The story is told from Saga’s perspective, written in third-person. It is much more a story about Saga than it is about the Martian Queen or the crew. The writing takes a very emotive approach, where we see all the things that Saga and Michel have to deal with, Gregor’s own dismantled life, and Wei’s suspicious behaviour once they are aboard the cruise ship. These, however, appear as side notes to Saga’s own thought processes and poignant introspection.

From within the ship, the writing flows into more of a mystery. There’s hardly any technical jargon or sci-fi heavy concepts, although they are definitely present. Instead the writing focuses on how Saga feels about the job, Wei, her mother, and the curious happenings that they attribute to the ship. Of course there are some ominous moments that creep through the story but nothing really scary.

Apart from Saga,who is very well written, the other characters fall to the wayside. We get a glimpse of their personalities yet not enough to truly set them apart. They are only noticeable because there are so few characters to focus on anyway.

The writing is not flowery or filled with prose, but the nostalgia is undeniable.

Final Thoughts

The ending was not predictable at all, although in hindsight I should have seen it coming. Especially considering that the focus was barely on the ship, but the crew inside the ship. In the end I enjoyed this novella. Not in the ghost story kind of way, but the emotional investment kind of way. Much like the Stephen King books I love so much.

Rating: An unexpected 4 out of 5


The Ghost Line was published on July 10, 2017.

 

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