Wednesday, 22 February 2017

King And Emperor by Harry Harrison (and John Holm)

Currently reading...

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Owner Series: The Departure, Zero Point, Jupiter War by Neal Asher

Yes, yes, it’s another trilogy post, and I’m sorry about that to a small degree, but in my defence, it is simpler to do this than to find three different ways to say the same thing in three separate posts. Hence, consolidation. Or perhaps in context, some sort of augmentation of the essential humanness of the post? I’m stretching of course.

So, on with the show. Fair dos, I know very little about Neal Asher*, except for what I can deduce from this trilogy. I would guess he has a dark and troubling pessimism for humanity’s future, a grim view of the toll of our human stain, and oddly enough, an optimistic outlook for the planet post-humanity. I would also hazard a guess that he’s a scientist of some sort, or at least of a scientific bent, given he seems to be able to talk of such real-life but convoluted concepts as zero point energy and the Alcubierre drive, only two of the completely feasible near-future technologies he develops to fruition in this, The Owner series.

It all starts with Alan Saul, who awakens in a plastic coffin on its way to being incinerated, with no memory but with an artificial intelligence implanted in his mind. His world is a strangely familiar dystopia in a not-too-distant future, where socialist concepts have been stretched to their most awful extremes and the world is a stratified socialist autocracy where usefulness to the state and to the Chairman is the only measure of a person’s worth and therefore his or her ability to buy food and pay for medical help. Everyone should be microchipped in order for the government to track them, and, it turns out, in a dreadfully warped Malthusian final solution, wiped out if required. It seems however that Saul is somehow off-grid, and whilst working to retrieve his past his great natural intellect gets to work, with the aid of the AI which later he absorbs entirely, on a strategy for revenge and ultimately his escape. Book one works through his struggles planet-side, book two on his escape into space, and book three is basically one fucking great big space battle using crazy far-future weapons and where humans are ‘backed-up’ into portable brains grown from their own stem cell tissues.

It’s pretty bleak in places, and a shit load of people meet untimely ends, but then also many people are suddenly propelled into near-immortality, not least Saul, later the titular Owner (plot spoiling prevents me from revealing the reason), with the advent of new technology for mapping and storing minds. It’s all very entertaining, and with insectoid machines cutting swathes through misguided humanity in vast, sprawling combat sequences, gruesome too. Had this been a medieval setting, I imagine people like Bernard Cornwell would cluck their tongues and stroke their beards in approval.


*Of course, this could be easily rectified with a simple internet search but I prefer in this case to be an absurd Luddite, in contrast to the author

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

One King's Way by Harry Harrison (and John Holm)

Awaiting review...

Thursday, 5 January 2017

The Green Ripper by John D. MacDonald

Trav salvages another chickadee.
It’s always nice to start the year with a literary palette cleanser, a mental sorbet if you will, and there is none better than John D. MacDonald for a bit of light but thrilling entertainment. However, this was one that perhaps had languished in the back of the freezer for too long and had become crystalline and frost-bitten, resulting in a somewhat lumpy texture and a mostly underwhelming experience.

As regular readers (and hopefully ad-clickers – go on, click the ads, please! It’s the only way I can make any money…) will no doubt have ignored, the Travis McGee novels tend to polarise opinion. Thriller writers and readers love them – the pace is great, the action intense, and the plotting, whilst sometimes, oxymoronically, obtusely complicated, usually makes sense in the end. As James Walling* says:
As the epitome of this [sublime literary] legacy, the McGee series transcends genre fiction, and is rich with piercing psychological insight, social commentary, and clean, compelling prose that lapses into poetry.

They’re short and sharp and mostly enjoyable. Readers with other priorities however occasionally and quite naturally become upset by the affront of rather anachronistic attitudes towards women, or chickadees/pieces of ass/objects of desire or violence (delete as appropriate) as they are often labelled. Indeed, MacDonald’s characters’ descriptions of women rarely stray past the colour of hair and eyes, hips, waist and breasts measurements, and the inferred ability of said eyes and shape in bed.

The Green Ripper is no exception. Good, clean, compelling prose (that does lapse into rather florid poetry at times) is somewhat tarnished by its themes of toxic masculinity. Except that this time, good ol’ Trav is brought crashing back down to the deck of his boat by the sudden death of his girl, the latest one with whom he can imagine a long, lazy life cocking about on the river (as per Lard’s Classic Cuts). He can’t even imagine shacking up with another girl (although he imagines imagining it, quite successfully). Even his hirsute clever-dick accomplice, the Keynesian Meyer, can’t lift him from his funk long enough to party on down with a sultry soon-to-be widow.

In the end, I forget what happens, other than he goes on a surprisingly murderous rampage through the military wing of a religious cult, but it’s all okay at the close of play. And I’m certain there’ll be another chickadee ready to lift his spirits in the next instalment. Which I am definitely going to read.