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I’m On Goodreads

Yes, like many “bloggers” I can get pretty loose with the actual blogging part. It’s not unusual to go weeks, months – even years – without a post. It’s not really procrastination, lack of motivation, laziness, or disinterest. It’s just firing up the web browser and typing something, without getting distracted. Let’s chalk it down to that modern malady of the internet age… pretty poor attention spans.

But I still love to read, and lately I’ve been keeping track of the books I’ve read with Goodreads , a social reading group of sorts, not that I actually use the social part much, but feel free to add me!. I’ve been rating the books I’ve enjoyed and entering some quick reviews if I remember to. I’ve also been adding in those books I can remember reading from the past, i.e. pre-goodreads.

This is actually pretty helpful. You can keep track of your reads, sure, but you can also notice other users who like the books you did. You can follow these reviewers or befriend them. You can also become a fan of your favorite authors. There’s lots of lists there too to help you see what’s popular, as well as quizzes and other frivolous stuff, but the best part is all those ratings you diligently enter will help the Goodreads recommendation engine find you something cool to read next.

Of course recommendation engines aren’t perfect, but this one is pretty darned good. With the lists and other reviewers you’ll never waste time on a useless book or miss an excellent one again. Your mileage may vary.

Anyway. There’s a few techniques I use to find new stuff to read, from award winners (e.g. Hugo and Nebula for scifi), recommendations from blogs, bestsellers, newsworthy titles, even that tried and tested Cool Cover coin toss, but Goodreads makes it all nice and simple. You may even find that holy grail, a new author you love with a long and interesting series of books you’ve yet to sample… No more waiting for the next title, yay!

Goodreads is part of the Amazon empire these days (a controversial step for some) and there’s also a good app for Android / Apple which is doubly good if you read on a tablet.

Here’s a widget from Goodreads and I’ve also put a button on the sidebar. See you there 😉

Stuart’s bookshelf: read

5 of 5 stars
This is one of the classics of cyberpunk literature along with William Gibson’s "Sprawl" trilogy that started with Neuromancer. It’s also one of the books I put off reading for whatever reason, but I’m so glad I did get around to it now….
tagged:
sci-fi

5 of 5 stars
Ok. I’m guessing this "review" will be pretty similar to others here. Basically, if you meet the target demographic, you’ll love this.

That is, if you’re a geeky 80’s kid and love technology, gaming, classic arcade machines, eighties mu…

tagged:
sci-fi

5 of 5 stars
Avery Cates is a Gunner, a hitman for hire in a grimy slum that was once New York City. Post Unification, the world is policed by the System Cops ("Pigs") who answer to no-one except their head of internal affairs, Richard Marin – the re…
tagged:
sci-fi

5 of 5 stars
Set in a post apocalypse London (Metrozone) Samuel Petrovitch keeps his past a secret as he carves out a career as a brilliant physicist.

Since the civilized world has been devastated by a series of bomb attacks by Armageddonists much …

tagged:
sci-fi

5 of 5 stars
In my eyes this is the best of the Dagmar Shaw series (so far?) even though here we really follow Sean Makin in first person and Dagmar is relegated to a bit player, albeit an important one.

Sean is a washed up ex-child star, appearing …

tagged:
sci-fi and crime

3 of 5 stars
If you liked "This Is Not A Game" then you’ll *maybe* like this. Most of the characters from the first book return, but this time Dagmar is head of Great Big Idea and she’s running an ARG in Turkey – first to promote the new James Bond m…
tagged:
crime and sci-fi

4 of 5 stars
Very interesting, and although I came to this from the Dread Empires Fall series by Walter Jon Williams I wasn’t disappointed in the least that it’s a totally different beast!

Dagmar Shaw runs ARGs – Actual Reality Games – but after bei…

tagged:
sci-fi and crime




goodreads.com

John Dies At The End By David Wong – Review

John Dies At The End is a novel from David Wong, alter-ego of Cracked.com editor Jason Pargin.

Right from the start let me tell you I loved this book, but I can see it being a hit and miss afair with others. If I were to call it a mad mix of David Lynch and H P Lovecraft, mixed in with a dash of American teen comedies, would that interest you?

Comedy novels by their very nature can divide their audience. It’s nothing like my other two favourite SciFi/Fantasy comedy authors Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, and not as clever. However the sheer absurdity and invention carries it along.

David, who works in a video rental store, is the teller of this first person tale as he regails us with his story of strange happenings in the small town of (Undisclosed).

Right from the start he, and his best friend John, are in the midst of the action, taking on a case of an unusual “haunting”. But as the story progresses we discover exactly how David and John got involved in this business.

It starts when a group of kids take a mysterious mind-blitzing new drug called Soy Sauce. This soon results in a race to Vegas as those who used the drug slowly begin to unravel with the exception of our two heroes. This drug opens them to a horrifying alternate universe, where they discover a being known  as Korrok is watching them, with his Shadow People as agents in our world.

Don’t despair, this is no carbon copy horror. The creatures that appear and the ways in which they are dealt with, as well as the alternate plane itself, and nothing you could imagine. If you did, you’d probably be locked up by now 🙂

The bulk of the book is John talking to a reporter – rather like Interview with a Vampire. The story catches up in “real time” near the climax of the story, but up until then we follow David’s adventures as he tells them, including lapses in memory or parts of the stories conveyed to him by John – often highly exaggerated.

For all it’s humorous stylings the story does sometimes give you the chills. The two main characters are well written, with bolshy John and semi-neurotic narrator David perfect foils for each other.  John doesn’t seem to have a nervous bone in his body taking on new dimensions and strange beings in passing, while David – at first a little scared – soon seems to be resigned to his fate and is willing to walk into impending death alongside him..

It’s a real page turner as the story hurtles along so you might find yourself finishing this in a sitting or two if it grabs you. It’s very imaginative and I haven’t read anything else like it – with nothing ever turning out quite as I expected and the creatures… well, I guess you’d have to read it to find out.

One thing I liked is the way the story drags in pop-culture references sometimes. Like when I was thinking about David Lynch a character is given Mulholland Drive to rent. Or the fact that I had just finished Dean Koontz’s “Odd Thomas” and the story mentions the fact that Koontz had written something similar!

Another point that did strike me is that book seems to jump from story to story within the overall plot. Once I read the authors footnote I discovered that this is based on the tales of John and David, written while he was a data input clerk, that had gained a following on the internet. This is a true success story similar to the way recording artists sometimes find a following on MySpace before hitting the big time!

I await further tales with these two characters – if there are any forthcoming – with anticipation.There’s also news that Don Coscarelli (he of Phantasm and other 80’s horror classics as well as Bubba Ho Tep) has optioned the book.

You can find out more on the Internet at www.JohnDiesAtTheEnd.com – including a new short story featuring John and Dave and other fun stuff, such as a video featuring John “ghost hunting”.

You might also like the humor at Cracked.com if you like this story. That is one of my favourite time wasters with a new Top 7 or 10 nearly every day.

Rating : 8.5 / 10 – Unusual, but excellent.

Here’s a “radio adaptation” of part of the novel on YouTube

Xenocide (Ender Saga) by Orson Scott Card – Review

Ender Series Boxset

Ender Series Boxset

Xenocide is the fourth novel in the Ender series, and the penultimate of the series overall – even though it is succeeded by the “Shadow” series. I know this review is going to be messy. It’s hard to summarise the ideas and thoughts in this series here, but I’ll try.

If you’ve read Speaker For The Dead you’ll know more or less what to expect. It follows the same story to it’s almost conclusion. Be warned: This novel – and the proceeding one – is both scientific and philosophical in nature, and far removed from the action in “Ender’s Game”.

If you remember the end of Speaker For The Dead brought Ender to make a pact with the Pequeninos. He also married Novalhina, made this adopted family his own, and met up with Valentine – his sister. He also established the Hive Queen on Lusitania, representing the last remaining living Bugger colony, and learned a little more about the sinister-but-essential Descolada Virus which rules the planet.

Now, Ender and his family and friends face a few problems on Lusitania.  For one, the Starways Congress has sent a fleet to destroy the planet with the Dr. Device, because the infitely adaptable Descolada Virus represents a threat to humanity – or indeed, all life.

To attempt to stall this Jane – the “ghost in the machine”, the entity that inhabits the Ansible network – has cut off communication to the fleet. But this has resulted in her influence being shown.

The person tasked to discover her is Han Qing-Jao, an inhabitant of Path – a Chinese world. On this world the most highly intelligent people are the “God Spoken”. They are highly intelligent, but exhibit all the mannerisms of Obsessive Compusive Disorder, then believe it to be a punishment from the Gods.

Finally the Pequeninos and Hive Queen both want to leave Lusitania and colonize other worlds, to preserve their species. Unfortunately they carry the Descolada, and thus could end up destroying worlds, or even the universe. This also presents a dilema to the humans, on whether to stop them or allow them to leave.

These ideas of life – which species should continue, if any? – pervade this novel.

It’s a race against time. The fleet is due to arrive soon. Han Qing-Jao eventually discovers the truth of Jane’s existence, and informs the Congress that all Ansibles must be replaced. This will take about 40 weeks.

Jane informs Han Qing and her highly respected father Han Fei-Tzu the truth about their Godspoken. It seems that the Congress deliberately genetically-modified Path’s inhabitants to both become hyper-intelligent but they were also crippled with the OCD in order to temper the frightening powers. While Han Fei-Tzu believes this, his daughter does not, thinking it to be a demonic plot to drive away the Gods. She is far too immersed in her religion, in part caused by her upbringing and tutoring by her father, to believe anything.

With some of the brightest minds on Lusitania and Path struggling to find answers about the Descolada, Faster Than Light travel (as a way to escape), and the truth about Jane the book enters it’s final part.

In part suggested by the Han’s secret-maid, Si Wang-Mu , it is thought the Descolada is a deliberate attempt at terraforming or planetry control instigated by some higher intelligence. The virus takes over entire planets and species, and genetically controls them in a “gaiacentric” way to keep the ecology stable. It is unkown whether the Pequeninos themselves are actually intelligent or only intelligent-by-proxy (via Descolada) but an experiment where one piggy has the virus removed yet remains intelligent up to his death disproves this.

There is some argument amongst the Ribeiras (Ender’s adopted family – who are also the scientists on Lusitania) whether or not the virus is sentient, and should be protected, but in the end they decide to create a crippled version – the Recolada – that will sustain life functions but give back free will and free them from genetic modification. This would allow all species to survive without being contagious or reliant on the virus to live. It’s duly designed by Quara and Ela.

Then the truth about Jane is discovered during a confusing meeting between Ender and the Hive Queen. Although the Hive Queen can only communicate mind-to-mind and thus is unable to to really comprehend human thought and vision, Ender discovers that Jane is in fact a part of him, or at least anchored in him, created long ago as a “pattern” that enabled the Hive Queen to communicate with Ender via his mind-game computer (in Enders Game). Jane, thus freed from believing she is only part of the universe-wide Ansible network, can survive the switch off in some form, albeit it crippled until she can rebuild her memories.

It’s the last part of the book that starts to throw you, as it rather heavily relies on science, or at least the science in this universe. It doesn’t cheat, and it’s not a “McGuffin” – because hints have been developed earlier in the novel and indeed in the series – but it does take some thinking about.

The basic premise is that the matter can be broken down to it’s smallest component, the Philote, that is indeed all that really counts. There’s a parallel universe of sorts that is infinitely composed of Philotes – and it’s those that came into our universe that created the so-called Big Bang. The Hive Queen herself – or at least her mind/intelligence – is a Philote (or pattern of) from that universe. And Jane is also a similiar Philote, brought into being in the Hive Queen/Ender pattern. Philotic connections power the Ansible, to enable instantaneous communication*. And each and every person, or indeed thing, is Philote based.

These Philotes are existence itself. They are infinite, and essentially make the idea of “thought as reality” a truth. Everything is a pattern, anchored or formed from Philotes, and the Hive Queen and Ansibles rely on this even though they don’t understand how it works.

* The whole Ansible communication theory, of one Philote directly linked to others, smacks of “Quantum Entanglement” , but we won’t go there.

This Philote-theory of the universe neatly solves all the problems on Lusitania, and indeed Path. By building a “Faster Than Light” ship (just a Hive Queen manufactured shell) that can jump from here (the Inside) to the parallel-universe (the Outside, a kind of primordial soup of raw Philotic matter) Jane can – by holding the entire pattern of the ship and contents in her mind – go to anywhere in the universe instantly. She simply switches the Philote-pattern from here to there, but since “there” has no time or location she can come back “here” anywhere (and I guess anytime?). Also any pattern that can be conceived can also come into being thanks to the Philotes….

This means Eva manages to create the new Rotolada by simply holding it’s details in mind, and even create a anti-OCD solution for the inhabitants of Path based on the Descolada. It means Ender’s stepson Miro – crippled in the last novel – can re-create his old, perfect body, and it means Ender brings into existence his idealized versions of young-Valentine and young-Peter by accident.

To be honest the last part of the book is rather mind bending and I’m sure I’m at least partly wrong on the details, but still… it’s a blast! Orson Scott Card has a wonderful imagination and as long as you can suspend your disbelief you’ll find yourself going along with the plot whether you understand the “science” or not.

While you don’t have to read Ender’s Game both Speaker For The Dead and Xenocide really form one long novel. Heavy on Philosphy, Religion and Humanity this is not your traditional Science Fiction – strange new worlds and space travel aside.

Descolada cured, we finish with the new young- Peter and Valentine becoming the anchors for Jane in place of Ender – since they are both really subsets of his own mind – and taken off in FTL ships to explore the universe. Peter to deliver the genetic OCD remedy to Path, and then to take on the Starways Congress, and Val to deliver the Hive Queens and Pequelino Father-Trees to their new colonies.

The story continues, in Children Of The Mind. Whether that refers to Peter and Val being “Children” of Ender’s Mind or to the quasi-religious group set up in the series I don’t know, but I’ll find out soon!

Rated: 8.5 / 10 – Can get confusing, but ultimately a uniquely rewarding read.

David Eddings, R.I.P

David Eddings, one of the fathers of modern “door stopper” Fantasy, has passed away aged 77. His stories were some of the first fantasy series I really loved, published through the 80s and 90s such as the Belgariad, the Malloreon, the Elenium, etc.

Many of his novels were co-written with his wife Leigh, and she was credited directly as such on his latest books.

While Eddings books were unashamedly commercial Fantasy you couldn’t help but get caught up in his worlds while reading them. While some would sniff at his contributions to the genre they did give pleasure to his fans and top the bestseller lists – and who can argue with that?

Eddings joins other (relatively) recently departed icons such as Robert Jordan and David Gemmel. If there’s another world out there, I’d like to think they’re all sitting around a camp fire somewhere – still telling stories.

Guardian | BBC

If you’ve never read Eddings work his fantasy output is in two main series. The first, comprising of the Belgariad and then the Malloreon are both 5 novel series about the sorceror Belgarath, his daughter Polgara and grandson Garian. The novels are heavy on magic and Gods, but it’s Eddings cast of characters that really bring the mythos to life.

Eddings other main series is the Elenium and the Tamuli – both trilogies. These detail the adventures of the exiled knight Sparhawk. Although distinctly Eddings, the feel of these books are a lot different, sometimes darker, but still exciting.

Eddings also wrote a few prequels to his first series and a four-novel series called The Dreamers which I am not familiar with.

There is a comprehensive guide to Eddings and summaries of all his works at Wikipedia .

And of course you can see all his books, read reviews, and discuss his work over at the Amazon David Eddings section.

Speaker For The Dead (Orson Scott Card) Review

Ender Box Set

Ender Box Set

Speaker For The Dead is the second book in the “Ender” series by Orson Scott Card. It follows “Ender’s Game” – but, really, it’s a very different book. Again, warning: spoilers abound!

It’s now 3,000 years since the events in the first book. Due to the intricacies of time dilation at lightspeed travel, Ender is still only a young man, and still haunted by his past misdemeanours.

On the planet Lusitania a new alien life form has been discovered. The Pequeninos, or “Piggies”, are less advanced than us, but due to mankinds xenocide of the “Buggers” in the first novel the Starways Congress have ruled that a strict policy of observation with no inteference is to be observed.

A Xenobiologist, Pipo, and his son, Libo, are mankinds sole contact with the aliens, and the two scientists constantly observe and transmit their findings to the wider universe. Pipo takes on an apprentice – the emotionally scarred Novinha – and through her research finds another aspect to the Piggies life cycle. Discovering something in her findings he sets off to speak to the Piggies, and he is massacred. Some time later his son Lobo also dies in horrifying and mysterious circumstances at the hands of this strange civilisation.

Novinha, a girl who’s parents are sainted after they managed to defeat the “Descolada Virus”, is prompted to delete all the research in order to prevent further catastrophe. She knows she cannot marry, since she fears her files would be revealed, and settles into an unhappy marriage and adultrerous relationship, giving birth to many children in the process.

Meanwhile, Andrew Wiggin (Ender) is now a “Speaker For The Dead”, a man who talks at funerals, giving the truth – good and bad – about his subject. His “speaking” is almost a religion, but few suspect that Andrew is the original Speaker, or even the Ender of legend, due to his youthful appearance. Only his sister, Valentine, who moonlights as the popular writer “Demosthenes” knows the truth. After Libo’s death Ender is summoned to Lusitania to speak on his behalf, and sets out on the thirty year journey, even though it’s only a few months in his own time.

Ender is also in contact with a being called “Jane”, with whom he communicates via a jewel in his ear. Jane is an entity born amongst the philotic connections amongst the Ansibles – mankinds method of instant communication – and is thus a “ghost in the machine”. She knows anything that is on any computer, anywhere, and helps Ender is his struggles.

When he arrives at Lusitania Ender discovers that the original speaking – called by Novinha – was recalled, but during the intervening years two more speakings were called by her children. He learns that the girl he fell in love with on the transmitter so many years ago (but only recently for him) has lived a tough life with a brutal husband – and it’s this husband he decides to speak for.

He also finds out the truth about the Piggies, as well as finds a home for the Hive Queen (the sole survivior of the “bugger” race with the capability of reintroducing the entire race) that he carried with him since his early days. The Piggies have a complex life cycle, relying – as does all life on Lusitania – on the Descolada Virus, a potent mutation that can cause death as well as enable life and evolution. Lusitania has long learned to lived with the Virus, each inhabitant is protected or embroiled in a symbiotic relationship, but the threat of genetic mutation and ultimately death remains.

Once the Starways Congress learn of the virus and the threat to humanity they send out a fleet with the “Dr. Device” capable of destroying the planet. This fleet will take many decades to arrive – so Ender is now in a race against time to prevent another xenocide.

Ender finally learns the truth. Helped by the Descolada virus the Piggies life-cycle revolves around a number of stages, ultimately ending in the “third life” as a tree. The deaths of Libo and Pipo were the Piggies attempt to honour their visitors, by eviscerating the bodies to grow this tree, but they did not realise that when Humans die – they *really* die. Ender, helped by various factions on Lusitania including the Children Of The Mind and Bishop Peregino of the Catholic Church seeks to create a treaty with the Piggies. The Piggies are a highly intelligent race who simply want to ensure they can have their own place amongst the stars, before mankind takes all. Their third-age form is also in contact with the Hive Queen – through mental or philotic communication – and they soon long for knowledge and technology.

Ender, with his knack for communication and empathy, creates peace amongst the Piggies and mankind, befriends the Piggie called “Human”, is forced to help him to the third-age by “killing” him, and makes his home on Lusitania – in part trapped by the Descolada – all in an emotional final few chapters of the book.

Speaker For The Dead is, as I said, a very different book to Ender’s Game – almost a totally different novel that just happens to include Ender and Valentine as characters. The bulk of the novel deals with the discovery of the new alien race, with it’s unique mysteries, as well as the more humanistic aspects of the colony that surrounds them. It’s interesting that although these books deal with high technology they do not have faster-than-light travel, and so the whole relatavistic nature of lightspeed travel provides an important part of the plot.

The story continues in “Xenocide” – itself eventually split to form “The Children Of The Mind” as the fourth novel. Speaker For The Dead also won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, giving Orson Scott Card the honour of winning those titles for both novels in the series so far.

If you expect a novel along the lines of Ender’s Game you will be dissapointed, but this is a fascinating read on it’s own merits. The in depth study of the alien Piggies, the mysterious nature of the Descolada Virus, and the powerful (but complex) personality of “Jane” all provide a unique story. You may not be pulled into this story immediately – but it’s worth persevering. In many ways this can be considered a family saga (of sorts).

Mostly set on the one planet (Lusitania) with it’s Catholic colony Speaker For The Dead deals with mankinds nature in many ways – their guilt, responsibilty and religion. Humans in this time are spread across a hundred worlds, and it’s only the Ansible that keeps the interplanetary relationships.

Orson Scott Card has succeeded in writing something that stands above the rest of the SciFi crowd, and is rightly seen as a classic of the genre. This is like nothing you have read before so ultimately may not appeal to the space opera and action buffs but will impress those who appreciate a original tale. The Ender series as a whole brings a fresh light to the genre, with evolution, religion, morality, and popularity causing key plot turns in the story.

Rating:9/10 – Might not be what you expect, but it is a rewarding novel.

Links:

Wikipedia

Amazon’s USA and UK respectively:

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – Review

Ender's Game Cover

Ender's Game Cover

Ender’s Game is one of those classics of Science Fiction that I had never got around to reading, but now I’m glad I did.

The story is set in a fantastical future in which the human race is struggling to avoid overcrowding and is just getting over a war with a race of insect-like creatures nicknamed the “buggers” which happened decades before.

I can’t avoid spoilers in this review so please do not read any further if you haven’t read the book.

In this future, families are limited to two children, and the army authorities also get to pick the best of these children in anticipation of a future clash with the buggers. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a third child, from a family that specifically had genetically superior children to aid this war effort. All three Wiggin children, Peter, Valentine and Ender are highly intelligent but only Ender makes the grade to join the space army. Ender readily agrees as he his tormented by Peter and never feels close to his parents – only Valentine holds him there.

What follows for most of the book is Ender’s training at Battle School, a space-station specifically built to train future pilots and commanders. Already his potential is confirmed, from a device Ender has to wear while young, but the Army are looking for someone who is both highly capable, ruthless, and able to act under pressure. Peter failed his test as he was too cruel, and Valentine is too compassionate, so the hopes of the Army lie with the six year old Ender.

Ender’s training is brutal. Still only a very young child, he is deliberately kept isolated and pressurised throughout his sessions. He has to deal with bullys, and deliberate manipulation from the teachers in his training school. He is for example moved early to the next class, and expected to fit in and perform with students far older than him. Or he is deliberately given praise, knowing the other students will resent this.

Ender Series Boxset

Ender Series Boxset

Most of the training takes the form of games. One game, designed to stress the mind, is played alone by students who access their private terminals and play games of logic and knowledge designed by computer especially for the student. This game uses the subjects subconcious to create tests and trials. The other game takes the form of a war game, with teams of students battling it out in a zero gravity environment called the Battle Room, where a commanders control of his troops is tested.

Ender studies hard. He starts as a lowly soldier in a team that doesn’t want him there. And just as he makes a friend or two, his teachers move him to a new team, where he is leader, with a batch of neophytes as his soldiers. These deliberate moves by the teachers keep coming, but Ender manages to hang on, even if he becomes jaded and withdrawn along the way.

Ender quickly proves his worth defeating every team thrown against him. Soon he is fighting a battle every day, then two a day, fighting both exhaustion and students much older and more experienced than him. This goes on until his teachers cannot push him any more. He remains at the top of the leaderboard. The youngest ever to graduate, he is quickly sent on his way.

As you can expect Ender brilliantly survives all these obstacles, making some friends, and more enemies, along the way. The manipulation by his teachers, especially Colonel Graff, goes deep into his personal life. Ender actually kills a student who bullies then attacks him, and that is covered up as the student is said to have been sent home. Another time his sister Valentine, the only person he truly loves, is sent to convince him to carry on with his training. By this time Ender is the only student capable of beating the buggers in the upcoming war.

In the last part of the book Ender is sent to the commanders training school many light years away. Here, he is told he is being taught advanced techniques against the buggers, with the old hero Mazer Rackham, the only person to ever defeat the buggers, teaching him. He learns about the buggers, that they operate as one within a hive-mind, and that they quickly learn from any strategies used against them. He is also taught about the Ansible that allows instantaneous communication, and about the ships that were sent against the bugger homeworld, to attack the buggers before they attack us.

Ender is pushed to the extremes here, and ends up having blackouts, nightmares, and sleepless nights in succession. He is deliberately kept alone but he refuses to give in, commanding his pilots – his old fellow students and friends – via many simulations on the computer against the buggers. He never sees them face to face and Mazer keeps on making the simulation harder and harder, but Ender wins out.

Eventually, at the very last battle, Ender is faced with insurmountable odds. Even the people in the room with him, who he is told are there for his final exam, gasp at the strength of the bugger army. Ender takes the only route out, sending his pilots against the planet on his computer screen, destroying it with advanced weaponry. There is silence, then a round of applause.

It is quickly explained to Ender that all his time in the commanders school was real, The battles he fought in the computer simulation were real, using fleets of ships sent out decades earlier against the bugger homeworld and surrounding areas. The final planet he destroyed in his final “examination” exterminated the buggers, saving humanity.

Ender doesn’t see it like that. He is struck with remorse by the fact he has wiped out an entire species. But back on earth he is a hero. With the bugger threat eliminated earth returns to its old warlike ways, a battle between nations, and Ender is confined to the training school (which he now knows is an converted bugger asteroid). He never really forgives himself for the death he has caused but at the very end of the novel there is some redemption.

While on an ex bugger planet with a ship full of human colonists, including his sister, he finds the last remaining bugger queen, left especially for him. The buggers had reacted to his mind through the Ansible – using his original game-world as a template to create a copycat area on their homeworld, awaiting his arrival. They expected to wiped out and set their last remaining queen. Ender senses that the buggers were not a warlike race, were not out to attack humankind. They, with their hive mind couldn’t understand any human behaviours, means of contact, or emotion and humans in kind couldn’t understand the buggers. The two races were so far apart each never new the other. Ender sees his chance to right the wrongs he has caused, takes the sleep young queen, and sets off.

There is an interesting history to this book, revealed in the authors introduction to the second in the series, “Speaker For The Dead”. It seems Enders Game was originally a novella, and SPFTD a stand alone novel. However, with Orson Scott Card struggling with his plot he thought about using Ender as a character, so the novella was rewritten as a novel with the a change in plot to allow the followup.

There are many layers to the story. On one level, it is a coming of age story of a child genius pressurised into winning against the odds. On another, it’s a story of the warlike nature of mankind. It can be seen as a war story like Starship Troopers, or a story that shows the futility of war. There is also a big subplot, where Ender’s equally intelligent siblings become political conspirators – “Demosthenes and Locke” – using the net to remain incognito. The world outside the training schools is never developed fully but enough is revealed about this Earth of the future to interest you in it’s fate. After all this is a story of Ender, and the rest of the world takes second place to that.

Personally I found this novel exciting , entertaining and involving. There are quite a few more to go and in some ways the story really begins in the next. Ender’s Game is one of those novels you just can’t put down, and while it might be blatantantly aimed at SciFi fanboys to some extent it IS quality entertainment, and can surprise you with some deep ideas and emotional turns along the way.

This book was first published in 1977 and has won both the Hugo and Nebula awards and is considered one of the classics of the genre. There is even an Ender’s Game speciality comic from Marvel and an Ender’s Game movie has long been promised.

Rating: 9/10 – An exciting and thoughtful look into the world of a small boy who survives his brutal training and manages to save the world.

Wikipedia Link – interesting information on the origins of this novel, it’s plot and structure, and the adaptations being worked on.

Bad Science Review – Ben Goldacre

There are a lot of misconceptions in science – mostly fueled by the mass media. Some of this is just plain wrong, while others can even be dangerous.

Most of this pseudoscience – that is, theories that are cloaked in scientific-sounding explanations or extrapolated from honest research but misinterpreted. Some of this has seeped into the popular consciousness.

For example, detox diets and antioxidant supplements – both plainly don’t stand up to scientific critiscism. Others, like the furore over the MMR jab, have already been retracted yet continue to convice some.

While I was never – let’s say naive – enough to fall for all the science stories you hear, I did believe a lot that was assumed to be common knowledge. For example, the antioxidants, and certain vitamins help with certain ailments. Mostly, it has to be said, gleamed from the newspapers and other outlets. After all, you’d expect your newspaper of choice to at least check the facts, even if you have a healthy wariness about the usual fear mongering articles.

Bad Science , a newspaper column, website, and book by Ben Goldacre has been a godsend. In it he shows how many popular medical beliefs are pure hokum. For example, the various alternative treatments. While I never believed in Homeopathy and the like I thought Nutritionism was a valid science. Turns out I was wrong. There are honest researchers in the nutrition field, but today’s nutritionists who prescribe various supplements, vitamins and minerals as the cures for the worlds ill are far from honest. Turns out it’s mostly down to the placebo effect.

Just look at Gillian McKeith as one example, since Goldacre really attacks her. Or Matthias Rath – who worked with the South African Government to deny effective HIV/AIDS treatments to sufferers. And there are others, like Patrick Holford of Biocare.

Bad Science – whether you read in print or via the webssite, is an eye opener. But you should not take it as truth – as you would be making the mistakes that Goldacre advises against and trust the word of one man. Luckily, today we have the World Wide Web and from a few mouse clicks you can see the truth. Unless of course the entire WWW is biased…

Bad Science delves into the truths behind clinical trials, blind and double-blind, the placebo effect, and bias. This is great background knowledge for the detailed exposes that follow – including the aforementioned McKeith and Holford, the Brain Gym, Fish Oil supplements, and many others. Some of this is straightforward, some less so, but it’s always informative and entertaining.

I also recommend ” Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear ” – a great book about the truth behind fear and risk, scaremongering, and much more. Or ” Irrationality “, a more thorough look into the errors behind certain statistics, experiments, and trials. Then there’s ” Quirkology: The Curious Science of Everyday Lives “, an entertaining book about psychological experiments and the very intriguing ways in which we all think and act. These all show how easy it is for a dishonest scientist, researcher, or businessman to cook the figures. The problem is, unless you frequently read journals and seek out the original studies you’d never know. We rely on journalists, magazines, and TV shows to condense and circulate the information.

While it’s pretty obvious after you’ve read these books that it’s easy to cheat the data whether voluntary or not, and you might not be so aware of the many statements that are taken as fact that are simply unproven. The bulk of the book is taken up with explanations of how proper studies are conducted, published, and peer-reviewed and all too often the alternative therapies fail at this first hurdle.

The answer, if there is one, is not to believe anything. Have a healthy sceptiscism about these things. And if you are ever prescribed some therapy or medicine, want to buy some gadget, or are excited by some new discovery, research it’s benefits, side effects, and read the trials. And be sure to read both sides of the argument to avoid any inherrent bias you might hold.

This is the new edition of Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. It includes the bonus chapter on Matthias Rath, which couldn’t be reported on in the original edition since Goldacre was the subject of a court case by the good scientist at the time. You can also read that chapter at BadScience.net

Please note: The links in this review lead to amazon.co.uk but the widget below will be of use to US readers who use amazon.com

Cross Country Review, James Patterson

Double Cross is James Patterson’s latest Alex Cross based crime novel. This time, the eponymous hero heads for Africa.

There’s a lot of good and bad things you can say about Patterson’s work, but the fact remains his novels regularly top the bestseller lists and he remains immensely popular with a huge fanbase. And I am one of those fans 🙂

Patterson is a franchise author extraordinaire, somewhat akin to authors such as Tom Clancy. He writes mainly crime thrillers, but he has dabbled in children’s books and romance. He also partners with other writers to help with his prodigious output. Alex Cross is his first, and most popular, series, with the Women’s Murder Club the second. Sometimes, you get the feeling the Patterson Brand is now more important than the writing itself, but he still delivers.

Cross Country follows from the other “Cross” titled novels, with the first batch of entries into the series all have nursery-rhymed themed titles.

In his time Dr. Alex Cross has worked for Washington DC PD, the FBI, as a Psychologist, and as a Consultant. His speciality is Criminal Psychology and profiling. He has caught numerous psycopaths and serial killers, most memorably Kyle Craig, Gary Soneji, and Geoffrey Shafer. He was portrayed by Morgan Freeman in adaptations of the first two novels, but in the books he looks like a young Mohammed Ali.

He lives with his three children and his Nana Mama – his feisty grandmother who raised Cross. He’s a strong family man, but during the novels he has a string of relationships, many of which have failed or ended in tradegy due to his work.

In “Cross Country” Alex finds himself caught up with Nigerian underworld in Washington DC when an old friend of his is brutally murdered. The chase soon leads to an african warlord known as The Tiger who recruits young boys to fight in his personal army of thugs. Alex heads to Nigeria to continue the hunt. He has some help from a CIA contact there, but mostly he is on his own.

In Nigeria Alex is quickly caught and thrown into a brutal hellhole jail and tortured. He follows the leads he has and meets up with an intrepid young reporter called Adanne. He heads for the Darfur Refugee Camps and the diamond mines of Sierra Leone on his travels. He soon discovers that Africa is a country of immense corruption, in more ways than one.

Eventually, after missing the Tiger at every turn, he gets the confrontation he wanted, but it doesn’t go well. He gets forced home from Africa by the American Consultate there after pushing one too many wrong buttons, but the trouble follows him…

Like all Alex Cross novels this is a quick read, very hard-edged and punchy with rarely a wasted scene. It’s not a long novel since there is a lot of “white space” in the book, as many chapters are only a page or two long. It’s part of Patterson’s writing style and helps speed the story along.

Apart from being a typical Alex Cross “Chase The Criminal” novel this is also a comment on Africa, albeit a pretty naive one, but you do get a taste of at least some of the unlawfulness that is rife there. I also found the entry into the Cross series to be much more bleak and violent – but still well written. While part of the edge is taken away because you never feel Alex will really die or fail to get his man, there are some heart stopping moments.

This is the 14th novel in the series and the pattern has long become formulaic but I don’t care: Keep them coming!

Rating: 8/10 You know what to expect by now, but it’s nice to see Alex again

James Patterson Official Site

The Last Oracle by James Rollinson

James Rollinson is another favourite author of mine. His books tend to cover the genres of techno thriller, adventure thriller, and conspiracy theory. A heady mixture!

Most of his books, apart from the first few, have covered the Sigma Force – his fictional team of soldiers cum scientists.

In “The Last Oracle” we have an adventure spanning the millenia from the original Oracle of Delphi right though to present day Russia.

The story starts when Cmdr Gray Pierce (whom fans will remember from previous novels) comes across a supposed tramp who collapses in his arms. He hands Gray a mysterious coin, and this sparks an international search and a race against time to save the world.

Eventually Gray finds himself in India, helping the Gypsies, uncovering secret government black-ops, and fighting Russians. While in Russia itself another important character is helping some very talented children race across a polluted nuclear landscape to stop a heinous plan to destroy the world and bring a new world order into power.

The book includes selective breeding, gene manipulation, bio-engineering, historical intrigue, extra sensory abilities, nuclear disaster, and more in spades. The best thing about Rollins is his well researched material, always based in fact.

This is a terrific read and a real page turner. There are many memorable scenes, including battles with genetically enhanced tigers, a fight in Sigma Force’s secret base beneath the Smithstonian Castle, and a race through a crowded Indian city. And at the end of his book, Rollins reveals the truth behind his creation – and if you’re like me you’ll be hitting Wikipedia to read about Lake Karachay, Pripyat, Project Stargate, The Jasons, and Autism 🙂

8.5 / 10 : Rollins is the King of the “Science Adventure”

P.S. If you’re not familiar with James Rollinson’s work but have read his novelisation of “India Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull” (or maybe a read a review) please don’t let that cloud your judgement. His own creations are much, much better.

Michael Crichton, RIP.

One of my favourite authors, Michael Crichton, has passed away aged just 66 from cancer. He had kept his illness private between him and his family.

Crichton was the author of such novels as Jurassic Park, Eaters Of The Dead, The Great Train Robbery, Westworld, The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, Prey, and many more. He was also the creator and first writer of the award winning ER TV series. In recent times he courted controversy with his novel State Of Fear and with it’s alternate view of global warming.

He will be missed.

Interestingly, it seems he had at least one more novel in the pipeline that has been postponed, so perhaps we will see another work from him posthumously.