Tag Archives: Review

Disintegration – Richard Thomas [Book Review]

I came across Richard Thomas through his column on Lit Reactor. The strength of his writing advice and his authoritative tone persuaded me to have a nose at his published works. Fortunately, Thomas ends his articles with a link to one of his many stories – yup, that’s called marketing, folks. And sometimes it works.disintegration_rt

But I have to admit, when I started reading Disintegration, I thought it was a parody. It read like Raymond Chandler had woken up in the 80s, boshed an ounce of coke and angrily smashed out this thriller while punching himself in the face. It was so stylised, it felt like a fan fiction story pumped full of steroids.

The basic premise involves an alcoholic depressive who comes under the employ of a mysterious Russian gangster, Vlad, who instructs our narrator to murder his enemies. Of course, our man wasn’t always a tattooed thug (he gets a new tat every time he kills, natch). No, he used to be a cop, with a family, but grief pickled in booze left him soulless and alone, except for his pet cat.

Continue reading Disintegration – Richard Thomas [Book Review]

How The Walking Dead finally lost me

This analysis contains spoilers!

When a friend first introduced me to The Walking Dead, I was hooked from the first episode – nay, the first five minutes. Its abrupt 28 Days Later-style beginning leant mystery to the zombie apocalypse ordeal, as gun-slinging cop Rick sought to fill in the gaps of how the world turned to shit, and find his family.

There’s a tremendous amount of agency and conflict in the early seasons, fuelled by human drama and complicated relationships. The awkward love triangle between Rick, his grieving wife Lori and his best friend and romantic usurper, Shane – the head-scratching hick – carried the show for the first two years.

That glorious first season gave our intrepid survivors something to do, besides staying alive; namely, seek out possibilities of a cure, or find a military base to hole up in. But when those elements were dropped with the destruction of the research bunker, events began to lose their pace and urgency.

Continue reading How The Walking Dead finally lost me

A Game of Thrones – George R R Martin – [Book Review]

Before you start, I know I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but I bought a copy of Game of Thrones because I’m a fan of the show and wanted to read the original work from which it sprang. I’d been told about its narrative structure, too, and wanted to see how it was handled, as multi-viewpoint third-person is how I’ve set my own work.

For those unaware, each chapter in Game of Thrones bears the name of the character it follows (which results in a contents page that looks like a goldfish trying to name all the protagonists).

The problem with coming back to evaluate a story having seen the TV series is, all the characters already have faces – Peter Dinklage will always be Tyrion in my head, Sean Bean will always play Eddard. There’s no imagination involved because those roles have already been filled by HBO.

Similarly, there are no surprises. The first series followed the first book down to the last scene. My friend tells me the show diverts from the books more in later seasons, and outright cuts many characters from the narrative, but this first book is practically the first season’s screenplay. Apart from, of course, this page of differences, which includes nerd-facts like:

  • In the book, Jaime pushes Bran from the window with his right hand. In the show he uses his left hand.

Right. I can’t believe the filmmakers took such liberties.

Continue reading A Game of Thrones – George R R Martin – [Book Review]

Dying for a Living – Kory M Shrum – [Book Review]

Zombies! 

They’re bloody everywhere aren’t they? Western media is awash with the shambling degenerates, mindlessly meandering through malls or ineffectively banging against baffling barriers of glass. Of all the stages of human life, only babies are more hopeless.

The zombie theme has reached saturation point – nay! It reached saturation point over a decade ago when 28 Days Later tried to reanimate the rotting genre with super-fast zombies. Cillian Murphy tried to trick us, but we knew what they were. You can call it “the Rage” all you like – they’re still zombies.

So while The Walking Dead went back to basics to find human drama in a world of brain-chomping corpses, Kory M Shrum sought an entirely different form to explore life after death.

Continue reading Dying for a Living – Kory M Shrum – [Book Review]

The Stone Man – Luke Smitherd – [Book Review]

There are two reviews one can write for Smitherd’s break-out 2012 novel The Stone Man. The first disregards the typos, missing words and other stylistic howlers…

And the other, does not.

I’ll therefore leave the latter for later, so you can stop reading if you think it unfair to criticise the editing of a self-published author. I’m still undecided as to whether it’s acceptable – at the fourth published version, no less – to still contain mistakes of this quantity.

But let’s say polish and quality don’t matter. Let’s say a story should be measured only on its characters, its immersive writing, its pacing and its emotional impact. How well does it do on the story-telling front?

(Note: contains some spoilers.)

Continue reading The Stone Man – Luke Smitherd – [Book Review]

Wool – Hugh Howey – [Book Review]

If Plato was still around today, it’s likely he would have been a big fan of science fiction. After all, he used fantastical constructs to explore the human condition, pioneering a unique exploration of individuals’ perception. That’s pretty sci-fi.

Plato Cave
Plato’s Cave

We can assume, too, his favourite sub-genre would have been dystopian sci-fi, if his Allegory of the Cave is anything to go by. In it, he imagines the plight of chained captives, held in position underground, their reality controlled by restricting their vision to view nothing but shadow puppets cast upon a wall by the light of an unseen fire behind them.

With no frame of reference or experience of the outside world, the shadows on the wall would constitute reality for those hapless captives. The sounds of the captors’ footsteps and voices would reverberate in the cave, Plato thought, and thus the illusion would be formed that the sounds were made by those very shadows. This was Plato’s dystopian vision – a populace imprisoned and manipulated by their overlords to such a degree that they knew nothing of it.

It is perception and the revelation of truth that drives dystopian fiction. At its best, it represents a functional, albeit oppressed, society, unaware of the shackles that bind its citizens: take for instance the controlled happiness of Brave New World; the Papa John’s clones in Cloud Atlas; the history-incinerating regime of Fahrenheit 451. Drama is drawn from characters finally noticing their prison, and rebelling against it.

Continue reading Wool – Hugh Howey – [Book Review]

The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell – [Book Review]

Don't interrupt me
In China, being rudely interrupted whilst reading Cloud Atlas

About four years ago, I picked up a copy of Cloud Atlas on a recommendation from my friend Ben. From the first few pages I was stunned. Here was a book of such quality, it made my own work read like the witless ramblings of an illiterate cretin. I loved it, and loathed it with self-deprecating awe.

I’ve heard some people were thrown by the first chapter’s somewhat verbose Victorian-style prose, but I found it captivating. The vocabulary was astonishing, the choice of words practically perfect.

I was also struck by the symmetrical structure of the book, which, when I realised I would be returning to the initial protagonist Adam Ewing, gave me all the more compulsion to read on and discover the resolution to his plight. Yet, I was enthralled by the next character I was presented with, and the next.

Each tale had its own unique tone, its own genre. And beneath it all there ran the theme of mankind’s predatory nature, persisting through the eras, adopting a different guise to confound us.

It’s a fabulous book and I recommend it whole-heartedly.

But it’s that, I’m afraid, that makes this review all the harder to write.
Continue reading The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell – [Book Review]

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours — a call for critique

Writers! I seek critique and offer my own unique services in return.

I propose a scheme, if you’re keen, in which we swap stories of similar length and critique the bejeezus out of them, before sending the mutilated corpses of our creative babies back to each other, weeping ourselves to sleep over the deluge of red ink.

I have three tales ready to be torn to smithereens, and suggest a straight swap with anyone who has a story of similar length (let’s say no more or less than 500 words’ difference?), to ensure we’re not exchanging a short story for a Tolstoyan tome.

All three are vaguely horror, while The Pumice Stone opens with a little bit of rude blueness.

Continue reading I’ll show you mine if you show me yours — a call for critique

The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton – [Book Review]

Science!

We’ve all dabbled in it, haven’t we? Whether we’re burning magnesium in the chemistry lab because ooh shiny, or enjoying metabolic energy conversion while eating a Mars bar; science is great.

But science gets a bad rap in fiction, variously denounced for being arduously exhaustive or irresponsibly lazy. Rarely does “the science” catch a break.

Exciting premise, boring book
The AndromeDULL Stain

Nor will I throw it one here, in this review of The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton’s breakthrough novel back in 1969.

Continue reading The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton – [Book Review]

The Last Family in England – Matt Haig – [Book Review]

Labrador Prince struggles to keep his human family safe
Bought in Pai, Thailand

I found The Last Family in England in a bookshop in Thailand and bought it for my girlfriend. She’d loved The Humans, also by Matt Haig, but had lost it in a hotel somewhere before finishing it, so I figured this would plug the gap until I bought another copy (yeah, you’re welcome, Haig, you’re welcome).

But, before she could glance at it, I thought I’d take a look.

I read it in two days.

Continue reading The Last Family in England – Matt Haig – [Book Review]