Tag Archives: 5/5

A flurry of reviews

I don’t write a lot of reviews, but every now and then, a cluster of books come along that have something about them that really appeals to me. This next lot cleaned out my TBR list and triggered my desperate plea for more reading material. 🙂

Reviews on Amazon

The first review is for ‘Allies and Spies‘, book 2 of the Unravelling the Veil series, by D. Wallace Peach :

5/5 No middle book sag here!

After falling in love with the first book of the series, Liars and Thieves, I was a little apprehensive about whether the second book could live up to the first. Second books are a bit like the ‘middle child’ of a family. You get all the surprises with the first one so what’s left for the second?

I needn’t have worried. 😀 Allies and Spies sees the story grow up and out, both in terms of the plot and the characters.

I really didn’t like Alue very much in Liars and Thieves, but she really comes into her own in book 2. I can’t tell you what she does, but she saves both Naj and Tallin from a very nasty death. More importantly, she does so by coming into her strength. She’s always been brave, but there’s a difference between physical courage and the courage needed to overcome your own shortcomings. Or even to recognize them. Yet that is precisely what all three of the main characters must do if they are ever to solve the mystery of the disappearances that have claimed so many lives.

That said, I have a secret fondness for tortured characters and in book 2, Naj suffers. That suffering serves to catapult him into a greater understanding of his world and himself, but that’s not much consolation on a personal level. I truly feel for Naj. 😦

And finally, Tallin. In many ways, Tallin the Changeling was my favourite right from the start. There’s something about his easy going nature that is very appealing. His alter ego Slick seems to encapsulate his personality perfectly – cute, cuddly, cunning, and naughty. But Tallin has demons of his own, and in book 2 he faces at least some of them.

I wish I could tell you about the plot, but if I do I’ll spoil it for everyone. Let’s just say that some things become clearer, but the forces behind the disappearances are still shrouded in impossibilities.

I can tell you about the writing though. Peach makes writing on multiple levels look easy. The prose is lyrical, the dialogue is always just right and the pace is perfect. No typos, no plot holes, no ‘what the?’ moments. Definitely no saggy middles! The story. Just. Flows. And takes us with it.

This series is character driven fantasy of the highest quality, and I recommend it to everyone, even those who don’t normally read fantasy. I’d give it 6 stars if I could.

The second review is for Tales from the Annexe, by Audrey Driscoll.

5/5 Dipping a toe into the world of Herbert West

I absolutely adored the Herbert West series and really enjoyed revisiting the world in which the series is set. Of the new stories, the one that will probably stick in my mind the longest, and give me nightmares, is The Ice Cream Truck from Hell. I will never think of Mr Whippy the same way again. lol

Beautifully written horror-ish short stories that all lovers of good writing will enjoy.

Review no. 3 is for ‘Serang‘, by C.S. Boyack.

5/5 Coming of Age in a time of chaos

Serang bears a slight similarity to the Karate Kid story, but only because the main character is young and learns martial arts. Beyond that, Serang is a lovely, unique story about a young girl who is given to the Temple to be raised by monks. These monks are both male and female, and there is no qualitative difference between them. All monks learn martial arts. Which style of martial art they learn depends upon their individual personalities – i.e. what suits each monk the best.

When the temple is destroyed, Serang is saved by one of the wandering monks who also survived the carnage. He continues Serang’s education in martial arts and living off the land. There are exciting fight scenes, but they are not the main focus of the story. Serang’s development and growth are the drivers, and I have to say that I loved the story from start to finish.

I would recommend Serang to anyone who loves reading about ‘becoming’ and the triumph of the human spirit.

And there you have it, three very different authors, genres and stories, but I enjoyed every single one.

Have a great Sunday [in Australia] or Saturday [everywhere else]!

cheers
Meeks


“Liars and Thieves” by D.Wallace Peach

I had a feeling this book would ruin my sleep…and it did. “Just one more chapter” kept me awake until 3am, but it was worth every minute. My Amazon review is going to start with a great big 5/5 stars, but you guys will get a sneak peek, followed by some information from the author herself. Let’s begin!

Liars and Thieves, by D.Wallace Peach

‘Liars and Thieves’, the first book in the Unravelling the Veil trilogy introduces us to the three main characters: a female Elf named Alue, a male Changeling named Tallin, and a half-cast Goblin-Elf known as Naj. But this is no cookie cutter ‘quest’ story. The three start as enemies and continue as enemies for most of the book because their races dislike and distrust each other.

We learn about those races, as we learn about the three main characters, and I have to tell you that the world building is deep. Each of the three races have unique magical talents, but the one thing they all have in common is their dependence on Savan crystals to power their societies. And guess who controls the mining of the crystals?

The Savan crystals can only be found in the Goblin’s territory, and comprises a large part of their trade along with mechanical devices that are powered by the crystals. In theory, this gives the Goblins a great deal of power, but these Goblins are not your stereotypical villains. Far from it.

In Liars and Thieves, the Goblins are the cool, calm rational ones who revere reason and logic above all else. They trade the crystals to the other races but keep supply to a minimum because they don’t trust the other races not to abuse the power the crystals provide.

As the story progresses, you realise that the Goblins are right. Alue the Elf is not a bad person but she is arrogant and impulsive, especially when she’s angry, which is a lot of the time. In many ways, she is a fitting representative of her people who seem to believe that they have the right to take what they want simply by virtue of being Elves.

The third race is represented by Tallin, a Changeling who can transform himself into any animal, or insect, for which he has learned the ‘pattern’. He uses his ability to spy on the Elves for the Changeling Queen. The Changelings believe that it’s okay to subtly spy on and manipulate the Elves because the Elves have proved that they want the natural resources that belong to the Changelings – and are prepared to cheat to get them.

Like three countries in our own world, the three Races in ‘Liars and Thieves’ have an accord that defines boundaries and lays down rules to help balance the needs of the three Races. But this is no dry historical treatise. We learn all of this world building through the characters and their interactions with each other. As we learn about them, we learn about their world, and the process is seamless.

That process is also utterly compelling. As I said in the beginning, I lost sleep because of it, and now I’m itching to find out what happens next. I’ve enjoyed all of D. Wallace Peach’s work, but this one has really, really hit the spot for me.

And now for some info about D. Wallace Peach [Diana to her friends], and the answer to a question I asked her about her writing process.

Author Bio

D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life after the kids were grown and a move left her with hours to fill.

Years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books, and when she started writing, she was instantly hooked.

Diana lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two dogs, bats, owls, and the occasional family of coyotes.

And now for that question. I asked Diana whether she created the plot to suit her characters or created the characters to drive the plot, or a bit of both. This is what she said:

Great question! Thanks for asking. I think there are three parts to the creation process for me. I start with the concept—a spark of inspiration bursts into my brain. In this case, a story about how untruths and biases start an avalanche of blaming and retaliation that spirals out of control and nearly destroys the world. The end of the world based on nothing real.

Seconds after the concept, the characters scramble in. Some are gung-ho. Some are wary. And some, like my goblin, would rather not participate. All of a sudden, their personalities are showing and taking over.

The plot is a work in progress as the concept turns into action and the characters tell me who they are. My outline of the plot lays out all three books, but it changes continually as the characters make choices and become who they are. I love that creative part of writing.

Thanks for indulging my curiosity, Diana. I think that balance between the characters and the world and the plot is part of what makes ‘Liars and Thieves’ such a joy to read. Oh, and…Diana’s writing is beautiful. At times it almost flows like music. At other times it’s as sharp as a shiny new pin.

If you want to see what else Diana’s up, you can find her on her blog: http://mythsofthemirror.com

You can also find her at:

And last, but most certainly not least, you can find ‘Liars and Thieves’ via this universal book link:
http://a-fwd.com/asin=B08FGQ2W3Q
Or click on the picture of the book. It will take you to the same web address.

I’m recommending ‘Liars and Thieves’ to anyone who loves to read, irrespective of genre. A good story is a good story is a good story! Enjoy. 🙂

Meeks


Red Tea and Profiteroles

Red Seal Blood Orange Tea with homemade Profiteroles

I’ve loved profiteroles – also known as cream puffs – for decades but never tried my hand at making them because I thought they’d be ‘too hard’, ‘too fiddly’, and probably wouldn’t work anyway.

Part of that negativity stemmed from the fact that I ordered a Croque-en-bouche [Croquembouche in English] for my wedding cake, and it really was a gastronomic delight. Mine didn’t have strawberries, otherwise it looked a lot like this:

By Eric Baker – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4120063

No way in the wide world I could make something like that…right?

Wrong. In fact, as the profiteroles at the top prove, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Making them was probably one of the easiest things the Offspring and I have ever done. And we owe it all to my good friend Marian Allen, author extraordinaire, and a damn fine cook!

If anyone’s interested, I first met Marian via her book ‘Sideshow in the Centre Ring’ which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve since read just about everything she’s published and…I’ve fallen in love with her cats. Waves to Tipper and Chickie. And now back to dessert…

The only thing I messed up that didn’t quite work was the chocolate ganache on top of the profiteroles. I was getting a bit tired by the time it came to putting the profiteroles together and the ganache [the chocolate on top] turned into a delicious, but runny sauce instead.

Oh, and if I’m being honest, I made one more mistake: I made seven profiteroles. Not six, or four, or any other number that is easily divisible by two. No, in my infinite wisdom I made seven…

Have you ever tried to cut a profiterole in half so both of you could share equally? Don’t. Just don’t. 🙂

Anyway…the Offspring and I were so impressed with the profiteroles I decided to do this post and give you guys the chance to try them as well. Without further ado, here is Marian Allen’s recipe for profiteroles/cream puffs with my comments in brackets!

Ingredients

  • 1/8 cup unsalted butter
    [or 30 gms or 1 oz]
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
    [plain flour to us Aussies]
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • cream for whipping
    [however much you want or have on hand]
  • chocolate and extra cream for the ganache
    [we used about 3 oz of each but the ratio wasn’t right. Maybe 3 oz of chocolate to 1 of cream?]

This makes about four biggish puffs. I doubled this and made them smaller and got 10.
[I compromised and made 7. Next time I’m making it an even number!]

Directions

Bring water, salt and butter to a boil. Add the flour and stir it until it forms a ball that pulls away from the sides of the pan. If you’re not making a large batch, you may need to take it off the heat immediately.
[The Offspring did this part and the dough came together very quickly so don’t wander off!]

The dough coming together in the saucepan

Let this rest for 5 minutes while you crack and mix up your egg(s). Add the egg(s) to the flour ball. It will look alarming, but keep mixing: It WILL combine.
[So glad Marian made that comment because we looked at the dough plus egg and might have given up otherwise. The Offspring used a wooden spoon to start with but then I had a go with a whisk and it mixed beautifully, exactly as Marian said it would]

The dough after the egg has been mixed in

Pipe into the shape you want using a pastry bag, or plop it in spoonfuls (the MomGoth method onto an ungreased baking pan.
[We used the MomGoth method too but placed some baking paper on the baking tray first. Easier clean up. 🙂 ]

Piles of profiterole dough on a baking sheet prior to baking

Bake at 375F
[180 C for us, a tiny bit less if using the fanbake setting of the oven]
for about 1/2 hour, or until there is not one glint or bubble of moisture on the surface of any of the puffs. Don’t check very often. I got a stove with a glass front just so I could make creme puffs. Crazy.

When they’re done, cool them on a rack.

Meanwhile, make ganache for the top. Dead easy.

Ganache

Measure equal amounts of chopped semi-sweet chocolate or good chocolate chips and cream.
[This was where I messed up. I weighed the chocolate and the cream. I think I should have used a cup measurement instead.]

Put the chocolate into a bowl. Heat the cream until it just begins to simmer. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Let sit for a few minutes, then stir until it’s all mixed together and dark and glossy.
[This really was as simple as it sounds!]

Assemble

Put the cream into a piping bag. I don’t have one (have one on order), so I put the cream into a plastic sandwich bag and cut off the tip.
[We didn’t have a piping bag either and decided to use the cookie machine instead. It worked but made a mess as the cream was wetter than cookie dough. Oh well. Piping bag placed on order too].

Using a cookie machine to pipe whipped cream into profiteroles

Poke a hole in the side of a puff, stick the pointy end of the bag into the hole, and squeeze the cream in.
[We whipped the cream with about two teaspoons of icing sugar, so sweetish but not gaggingly sweet. Adjust to suit your own tastes].

You can feel the puff inflate with it. When the puffs are all filled, dip the tops into the ganache or spoon it over them.

And then see how fast they disappear! Honestly, we could have eaten another whole batch, they were so delicious. I can see us baking these scrumptious goodies on a regular basis because the process really was easy.

Thank you, Marian!


Lost in Spam – a wonderful review of Vokhtah!

I was checking my emails after dinner when something made me open my spam folder. The first few items were genuine spam, but then I found an email from Chris Graham [aka The Story Reading Ape] alerting me to a brilliant review of Vokhtah. If this were fiction, you wouldn’t believe it!

“They were now just two frail iVokh pitting themselves against the might of the wild.”

Vokhtah is a difficult but rewarding book. If you like unusual conceptions of extraterrestrials, this is for you. Once you’ve read about half of it, the complexities begin to clarify themselves, but two readings are needed for complete understanding. For example, it took me quite a while to grasp that the Blue and the Messenger were the same individual, and I also didn’t realize that there were two traders’ caravans wending their way to Needlepoint – I thought the Junior and the Messenger were in the same caravan and I got confused. Part of the problem is that the characters don’t have names, only titles. In her end matter, the author addresses this – it seems there is a taboo in this culture about enunciating your real name.

Vokhtah is a grim and forbidding planet; it has two suns, one a hot white star and the other a red dwarf. Sometimes they both shine at once, creating a climate of extremes. The planet is populated with an assortment of mostly vicious and predatory lifeforms and that includes the intelligent ones, who prefer to consume their food animals live. It’s a tribute to the author that she can take these basically repulsive intelligent lifeforms and make them sympathetic. And I would recommend that any human ship of exploration steer clear of the planet Vokhtah – humans would probably be seen as prey animals!

My guess would be that the Vokh evolved from bat-like creatures – their ability to echo-locate is mentioned briefly. They have wings (which contain their lungs), so most of them can fly. They have two hearts. And they are telepathic hermaphrodites with seemingly magical inner powers, like mind-healing and also mind-killing (their Healers are also trained as assassins). There are two variant species – the Vokh (large and dominant) and the iVokh (meaning literally “small Vokh”). The Vokh have a serious flaw – breeding is consummated by means of violent rape; nobody wants to bear an offspring because the “female” always dies in childbirth (this doesn’t occur with the iVokh).

However, the people have a strong sense of honor and obligation – if you accept help from someone, you incur an obligation and if you don’t fulfill it, you are ostracized. In the second half of the book, after the episode at the Little Blue River, the main characters – the Messenger and the Apprentice – are shown developing a sense rare in these people – empathy, an ability to relate to and care about others with whom one has a relationship, beyond the obligations of the code of honor.

All this just scratches the surface of the author’s astonishing creation. I should also mention that the book is a cliff hanger, and no second volume has yet appeared.
I must say a few words about the language. Unfortunately, the Kindle version has no Table of Contents and so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the author provided a brief treatment of the language in the end matter. It seems to have no pronouns, and verbs are consistently rendered only with the present participle form, all of which helps to create the alien language effect. Certain words used in the text are self-explanatory, like “ki” for “no” and “s’so” for “yes.”

There is one etymological gaffe that I can’t help commenting on – the explanation of the word “boot” (a foot-covering). The character doesn’t know what the word “boot” means and it’s explained as a contraction of “bucket for foot.” And yet that derivation would be impossible since the iVokh aren’t speaking English. You have to assume that the Vokhtah words reflect a similar construction, which the author could have fabricated.

But that’s only a quibble – don’t be deterred! This really is an amazing book and while the culture may not be palatable to everyone (you need a strong stomach sometimes), I definitely recommend it to any serious reader of science fiction.

The review was written by Lorinda Taylor, also known as The Termite Writer. Some days just get better and better.

-hugs-

Meeks

 


When a foodie needs some time out…

It’s been a stressful time in Australia lately, and I feel as if I’ve been either horrified, or scared or angry or all three since well before Christmas. To say I needed some time out would be a gross understatement, so the last couple of days I’ve retreated to books. Or should I say, one book in particular : The Quiche and the Dead.

I gave The Quiche and the Dead 5/5 stars on Amazon and left this review:

I read lighthearted mysteries when I’m feeling down and need a pick-me-up. Well, The Quiche and the Dead did more than just lift my mood, it left me in awe of the author’s imagination, writing skills, sense of humour and…cooking ability!

I mean, really! A murder mystery that actually makes some [subtle] social commentary? has realistic dialogue? has main characters who are instantly recognizable and come across as real people? has secondary characters who aren’t 2 dimensional plot devices? is well written and edited? and does all this whilst making you want to try one, or all, of the pies featured in the story? Oh, and has a tight plot and excellent pacing?

Frankly, I was going to give The Quiche and the Dead 5 stars even before I reached the final page, but then I finished the story and discovered that the author really did know how to cook and had provided recipes for all the pies in the story!

Apologies if that was a spoiler, but I’m a foodie and intend to try those recipes in my own kitchen. In fact, I intend to buy more of the Pie Town series in case there are more goodies at the end. And for the story, of course. 🙂

Would I recommend The Quiche and the Dead…you bet, with bells on!

Drat, just realised I forgot to mention the cat! Seriously, buy this book and read it!

cheers

Meeks


The best historical who-dunnit…EVER!

Okay, I know the title of this post is a little over the top, but January must be the month for brilliant books. Seriously, I’ve just finished ‘A Star in the Sky’ and I’m in awe of the author’s talent. Under the ‘Look Inside’ you’ll find the review I just left for ‘A Star in the Sky’ on Amazon. 5/5 of course.

Not only does the author, Zichao Deng, [d.z.c. for short] make the world of the ancient Mayans come alive in all its barbaric splendour, he’s also created a murder mystery which could only have occurred in that time!

This is no ordinary murder disguised with a thin vineer of history. Every clue, every backward step, every twist and turn of the plot is woven out of the facts of that world:

  • The man who died was poisoned,
  • The poison was the same poison as used on darts, but he was not shot,
  • In fact, there did not appear to be any way for him to have been poisoned at all,
  • The politics of the situation could have seen the death explained away as ‘magic’, but
  • The female doctor who is charged with investigating the death refuses to allow either politics or superstition to get in the way of the facts, or logic.

And, like the very best who-dunnits, the clues are there all along, but the great reveal doesn’t happen until the very end. In fact, there are two reveals and the second is even more astonishing than the first.

‘A Star in the Sky’ kept me reading when I should have been doing other things, and that was despite not dumbing down the names and Mayan words sprinkled gently throughout the story.

I love alien sounding names, so I had no trouble with the female doctor being called ‘Lady Tz’unun’. I likewise had no trouble with the name of the Queen – Sak K’uk – at least, not inside my own head. As a reader, all I wanted to do was identify the character, so who cares whether my pronunciation was accurate or not? And those names were part of the reason I knew I was not in Kansas any more.

Another thing I loved about ‘A Star in the Sky’ was the richness of the characters. Lady Tz’unun may be the Sherlock Holmes of the story, but her servant Three Rabbits, plus the Queen’s councillor, the Ti’sakhuun are all part of an ensemble cast that just work, individually and as group. The story is finished but I still want to know more about them, and I definitely want to know more about their slice of history.

I sincerely hope that Zichao Deng has more murder mysteries for Lady Tz’unun and her team to solve. Simply brilliant.

My review won’t go live on Amazon for a few more hours, so I’ll just leave you with a concept drawing done by the author himself:

a-star-in-the-sky-concept-drawing

You’re welcome 😀

Meeks

 


The Communion of Saints – a review

I haven’t done a review in a long time, but I finished The Communion of Saints last night, and I simply had to review it.

But first a little background. Communion is the third novel in the John Ray series that began with Hope Road and continued with Father and Son. My reviews of Hope Road and Father and Son are here and here. It’s been a long time between drinks, but the wait was worth it. Here is the review I just posted on Amazon:

Like ‘Hope Road’ and ‘Father and Son’,  the first two John Ray thrillers, The Communion of Saints is that rare beast: a character driven genre novel. And like its predecessors, Communion is brilliant.

The Communion of Saints can be read as a standalone novel because the author weaves enough prior knowledge into the story to make the character and motivation of the protagonist  realistic and satisfying. Nevertheless,  I highly recommend that you read the earlier novels first.

Why? Because all three novels are character driven thrillers, and it’s the character of John Ray, the protagonist, that sucks you in and keeps you turning the pages.

John Ray is the last surviving member of a crime family. He’s the white sheep, the one that broke away and tried to live a straight life. But it’s hard to remain divorced from your past when you see your brother shot to death in front of your eyes. It’s even harder to stay detached when the Law tries to lay every nasty crime at your door.

After the gruesome death of his father, the old crime boss, John Ray tries to start afresh. He gives his business away and takes a job as a lowly lecturer’s assistant, but he’s shrivelling up inside.

Enter Detective Chief Superintendent Shirley Kirk. She needs John’s help. Or, to be more exact, she needs the help of his historical links to the underworld because someone is making allegations of child abuse against an institution to which they both have ties.

In the process of unravelling truth from lies, John discovers yet more about his own past, none of it good. He also becomes a suspect in two murders, simply because of who he is.

The plot is tight, with no ‘what the…?’ moments, and the prose is elegant, painting a vivid picture of the characters and their world without ever being flowery or pretentious. But the true joy of Communion is in the characters. Not even the walk on/walk off characters are two dimensional. All of them possess a vitality that makes them feel real, no matter how minor.

As for John Ray and Shirley Kirk, they’re real people to me.  I care about them. I’d like to meet them, talk to them, spend time with them. More importantly, they are people I will not forget.

I cannot think of greater praise for an author’s work.

Something I didn’t write in the review was that I wondered whether I’d still have a wee bit of a crush on the charming rogue, John Ray. The answer is yes. He’s still a bad boy with heart, and we know how women like them. 😀

cheers

Meeks

 


State Zero – short, sci-fi movie – brilliant and Indie

I don’t like zombie movies, or horror movies in general, but I loved Alien when I first saw it at the movies.

Okay, stop sniggering, I was a lot younger then. Anyway, this Indie short reminded me of the very first Alien movie with a hint of Silent Hill because of the intelligent use of fear. Plus the graphics blend seamlessly with the live action. See for yourselves:

State Zero is top quality movie making at an Indie price.

Apparently DUST is a channel on youtube created to showcase short, Indie movies and I, for one, intend to see more of what’s available.

Happy Sunday,

Meeks


‘Ready Player One’ a #5star review

Before I begin, a warning to all non-gamers – tune out now.

ready player oneOkay, for those of you left, let me begin by saying that ‘Ready Player One’, by Ernest Cline, is the first non-Indie novel I have read in a very long time. I broke my unwritten rule about supporting only Indies because I’d heard the story was brilliant. It is. It’s a tour de force of imagination, but not for everyone.

Why? Because it’s all about gaming. MUDs, consoles, MMORPGs, VR, you name it. There’s even an homage to all things 80’s thrown in to season the mix. But if all those acronyms mean nothing to you, then neither will the plot because gaming provides the structure and mindset that makes the plot compelling.

And it is a compelling story. Set in the 2040s, ‘Ready Player One’ paints a dystopian picture of a world in which we left things too late. Climate Change is no longer a theory to be disputed, it is a reality to be endured, and for the majority of America’s population, that means living in abject poverty.

With the real world so grim, most people escape to the virtual reality of the OASIS, which is like our internet on steroids. VR immersion rigs – goggles, haptic gloves and suits – and cheap OASIS access mean that even the very poor can escape reality, at least to some extent.

But as with all good stories, there is a villain of the piece, and in the case of ‘Ready Player One’, that villain is a corporation known as IOI.IOI want to control OASIS because by doing so they would gain control of vast swathes of the world’s population.

Standing against this corporate threat are a bunch of teenaged geeks – Parzival, Aech, Art3mis, Daito and Shoto – called gunters. The action, however, unfolds on both the VR and real world planes, blurring the lines of both.

Is the plot innovative and new? Um, yes and no. At its core, the story is about the fight between good and evil, which is as old as human time itself. But how it’s done is why the story is so compelling. Being able to empathize with all of the main characters also helps.

The main character is an avatar called Parzival. The young man behind Parzival is Wade, an orphan who lives with his aunt and her abusive boyfriends in a ‘stack’. Stacks are trailer parks that have been built upwards rather than outwards [to save space] and they provide shelter to the very poor.

Wade can access the OASIS because at the beginning of the story, he is a school-age boy and all school-age children are provided basic access for free – so they can attend virtual schools on a virtual planet called LUDUS.

As always, of course, money talks, even in a virtual reality, so we become invested in Wade’s life because he is the stereotypical geek. The big difference between him, and say someone like me, is that Wade/Parzival is one of the smartest geeks around. Luckily, his insecurities make us love him even as we wish we were more like him. -cough-

And then there is the gentle love story I mentioned. It’s there, and it’s an integral part of the story, but it is not the integral part of the story, the pivot around which all else revolves. If you need a comparison, think Chani and Paul Muad’ib from the Dune saga.

For me, the love story in ‘Ready Player One’ struck just the right balance because it provided a change of pace when needed, as well as motivation for parts of Wade’s character development. All without ever overshadowing the science fiction element. Then again, I may be a bit old-fashioned when it comes to science fiction and romance.

And finally a word about the writing. Here too, the word that springs to mind is balance. At its core, science fiction [like its cousin Fantasy] is all about world building, so info. dumps are almost inevitable. The trick, then, is to balance the info. dumps with the action so the reader wants to keep reading.

As you can imagine, balancing two such conflicting elements, whilst also juggling character development, social commentary and that hint of romance, is one heck of a job. Ernest Cline, the author of ‘Ready Player One’ manages to keep all his balls [pun intended] in the air…most of the time.

I think I only really became aware of the info. dumps once or twice during the entire story, and even then, I was interested enough in the world to feel no resentment.

This was a story I enjoyed from start to finish, and it saddens me to think that such quintessential science fiction has been largely ignored by the establishment. It did win the Prometheus Award in 2012, but for my money, it should have won the Hugo and Nebula awards as well. It didn’t, but perhaps, as with The Martian, Ready Player One will gain the recognition it deserves when/if Steven Spielberg turns it into a movie.

In the meantime, why not read the book? Honestly, if you have ever played a video game, of any sort, then this novel is a must read.

cheers

Meeks

 


My review of The Remnant and #Amazon’s new review format

Click to go to the Amazon page

Click on the cover to go to the Amazon page

I’ve just discovered a new, fresh, wonderful voice in sci-fi! The author is Paul B. Spence and the book is The Remnant, book 1 of The Awakening series. Better still, books 2 and 3 have already been published so I have reading material for a couple of weeks at least. 🙂

This is the review I just left on Amazon:

I don’t normally enjoy so-called ‘military’ sci-fi because it often reads like a boys own fantasy with impossible Star Wars type space battles that are completely unrealistic, and woefully unscientific. But /this/, this story seems to be built on real science and real possibilities, no matter how remote. It is also a finely balanced blend of politics, archaeology and psychology where all the elements work together to create a very compelling story. From my point of view, the most compelling part is that the main character is both heroic and damaged. I like him as a hero, but I care for him as a person. This is how all sci-fi should be.

The only negative thing I will say is that the editing could have been better, not in terms of the prose – the prose is crisp, clean and at times almost lyrical – but in terms of the odd missing word, the odd typo. I noted them as I read them, but immediately dismissed them as the story drew me on.

Paul B Spence is a new voice in sci-fi [at least to me] but not for long. This is a storyteller who deserves recognition. Very highly recommended.

Seriously, I wasn’t exaggerating. This man knows how to write. 🙂

Now, to the second part of this post, Amazon’s new review format. It’s quite a departure from the past and has some good points, but also some strange ones. The following is a pic of the review screen as I was writing the review for The Remnant:

amazon new review format The Remnant

You can click on the pic to see an enlarged version, but the main features should be readable even in this one. The main innovation is the multiple choice meta reviewing now available. You can select options in four major categories – plot, mood, pace and character – to give a kind of snapshot of the book, presumably for people who don’t want to wade through reams of prose.

As an attempt to make the reviewing process less prone to abuse*, I have no issue with the multiple choice categories because they:

  • require at least some thought on the part of the reviewer, and
  • are not all polarized options ranging from ‘good’ to ‘bad’.

To illustrate the second point, let’s say I have some axe to grind with Amazon, or sci-fi in general, or Paul B. Spence in particular. To make my displeasure felt, I can still give The Remnant a one star ranking, but now I also have to provide a less black and white response via the multiple choice questions.

Under plot I could probably select ‘predictable’ as the most negative option, but some readers look for predictability in their reading material. Similarly, selecting ‘slow’ for the pace and ‘one dimensional’ for the character would be construed as negative by some readers but not all. Finally, under mood, I have no ‘bad’ choices at all.

So, all in all, I see the new format as a fairer way of leaving a review, however the lack of real choice in the answers kind of defeats the purpose of a real review. For example, I found the mood of The Remnant to be both ‘suspenseful’ and ‘thoughtful’, but I could only choose one option so therefore that element of the review is already inaccurate.

To be fair, the designers of the new format would have sweated blood getting the multiple choice questions to be as effective as they are. Nevertheless, I would love to have multiple choices per category rather than just one – e.g. ‘select the words that most closely reflect how you feel about…’

All in all, however, I give Amazon a big 3/5 [see the *update below] for the new review format, and Paul B. Spence gets a glowing 5/5.

Man, I love discovering great new authors, especially when they’re Indies**. Please give this man some love. My review brought his total up to just 10. He is obviously as good at marketing as I am. 😦

cheers

Meeks

  • * Carrie Rubin just let me know that you can leave a review without selecting any of the multiple choice options, which kind of ruins the idea that this will help reduce review-abuse. Ah well…:(
  • ** -sigh- I really should do my research before I hit the Publish button. The paperback of the Remnant was actually published by Asura. The Kindle edition, however, may be Indie published as it sells for $2.99. I read the Kindle version so… 😦

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