These Unnatural Men by EJ Babb – 4/5 Stars

These Unnatural Men by EJ Babb - Front Cover

‘What with so many public service vehicles being hijacked during the travel crisis, but I think they were more concerned for the protection of government property.’

A dystopian novel

These Unnatural Men (TUM) was not the novel I was expecting. Many, but not all, dystopian novels I’ve read are influenced by cataclysmic events occurring during the novel itself, whereas in TUM the characters are already trapped by past circumstances, so it falls into the ‘trapped dystopia’ category in my mind. TUM was character based. I found this style refreshing and new, taking the reader out of the tried-and-tested formulas for dystopia, and what’s marvellous is that it also plays with the reader’s mind, dipping into preconceived notions of psychiatric institutes and blending them with a euthanasia focus.

Fascinating characters

Nieve Hindeman is the protagonist, an up-and-coming euthanasist bent on advancing her career at Boar House and doing euthanasia the right way. She’s very much a product of the present in TUM, but a more extreme version who wants to prove her theory to hope it will change euthanasia for the better. She’s not a ‘doctor’, as the patients still get confused what to call them; I liked this link to the past. Her character was fascinating and disturbing.

And though I disliked Nieve’s cruelty, zealous approach, nosiness, and her blatant disrespect of privacy, I came to feel sorry for her at times when flashbacks were given into her past and when older characters criticised her lack of knowledge of the real world. It’s as if she was groomed to be a euthanasist and she’s as trapped as the patients are: ‘You should have applied and received your civilian money by now, but if you haven’t you can borrow some from the petty cash box.’

Author EJ Babb did expand well on the rigorous assessment process for acceptance into the euthanasia program. There is a lot of red tape preventing cases from going forward, and by the time the patient is through with all these tests, like David, they’re impatient and they just want to die.

The character Logue and his dynamic with Nieve was worth reading:

‘Logue smiled at her – a rarely seen expression on him. It made his big, droopy eyes shrink inwards as the folds on his face bunched together. He looked subhuman, almost lizard-like.’

‘His watery eyes were boarded with prominent blood vessels and his thin top lip curled inward as he spoke. “Everyone has secrets.”’

Criticism

I’d like to have learnt more about what had happened in the past, what this travel crisis was, and to delve deeper into the technologies used at Boar House for the purpose of euthanasia beyond a particular drug.

David, Nieve’s case, was intentionally boring, and the point was hammered home how little of his true reasons for being at Boar House was divulged. It makes the reader wonder, is it David who’s not forthcoming or is Nieve imagining things from too much pressure? He wasn’t interesting after the beginning and the story, true to its form, was more about Nieve.

Overall

TUM was a novel that kept me reading. I wanted to know what Nieve would discover to be the truth and I wanted to know what sort of character she was. Page after page we learn about the fictitious dystopian world author EJ Babb has created, and even after finishing you still feel you want to learn more.

On Amazon

 

On Editing by Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price – 5/5 Stars

On Editing by Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price - Front Cover

‘Whichever structure you’ve used, the main purpose of the final act or closing chapters is to resolve the threads of this plot, ensuring that the reader’s investment is paid off; that the central storyline is given space to be concluded satisfyingly.’

This book was recommended to me in an editorial magazine review, and I thought it’d be nice to try it out and see if it was as interesting as it appeared. It turned out I was correct. Some of the comments on genre were excellent for broadening my mind and encouraging me to think ahead about reader expectations.

On Editing asked me to analyse sections of writing, and explained why some were better for conveying show-not-tell practices as opposed to summaries or ‘telling’. In this sense I felt On Editing opened my eyes to practices I could look into correcting in my own writing, as well as others’.

I didn’t agree with every example, in the point of view chapter, notably. But I did see the point the authors were trying to make. All the examples were clear and easy to understand. I’d recommend On Editing for writers who are new to self-editing, need to brush up on their self-editing skills, and for developmental editors who want to know how to approach some areas of writing.

Forty Birthdays by Jason G Long – New Release – 5/5 Stars

New Release September 2020!

Forty Birthdays by Jason G Long - Front Cover

What’s it about?

Specialness associated with birthdays: each ‘chapter’ is a story, from the point of view of a different character on their birthday, and something exciting, interesting, or meaningful will hit you in each one.

None of the characters quite knew what was going to happen on the day of their birthday itself, be it good or bad, and this was an excellent premise for Forty Birthdays. Most of the characters with birthdays were young, for several running chapters, and perhaps in some cases I read them this way because of the style of putting aside of reservations, making drastic mistakes, and the specialness associated with birthdays.

For younger readers, then, and older readers?

The stories can appeal to a wide range of ages. Under-thirties would maybe better relate to the presence of technology in the stories and the trials of growing up. However, the stories were definitely relatable to me, as somebody in his early thirties, and I have a strong feeling there will be more than a few stories everybody can see themselves in.

The themes were of individuality, love, life, and death, and though all chapters have a philosophical thread through the interactions of characters – subtle some times and blatant at others – there was also a more studied concept of philosophy through ‘soul-hopping’ and the ‘nature of a soul’, beyond a limited definition of love and connection, as a way of seeing or understanding people you like, or at least that’s how I understood it.

The characters vary: eloquent, empathetic, downtrodden, sophisticated (‘a priori’); and come from all walks of life. I did also note LGBT themes through more than a few stories, in a broad definition of love that leads to conflict in some cases, liberation in others.

Messages in each story

Feel-good stories, in some cases, and dramatic and upsetting in others: every story written is powerful and evocative and it’s apparent from the first. In some, there are poignant messages about what really can matter most in life for different characters in different situations.

There were many stories I felt I had grasped the message of them, only to see them from another angle on a second reading. I enjoyed puzzling over the meaning of a few of them also. In this sense, they are stories that can be reread – you can get more from them than a novel you could read and cast aside for a year.

Conclusion

To me, it felt like a pleasant reprieve reading Forty Birthdays – something different from my usual fare and I was surprised how interested I was to find what circumstances the characters in each chapter would get in. I had much enjoyment from the experience, and crucially, the stories never got old!

On Goodreads

On Amazon

Author Website

 

 

The Great Ordeal by R Scott Bakker – 3/5 Stars

The Great Ordeal by R Scott Bakker - Front Cover

(Contains spoilers of previous books in the series – does anybody state this?)

R Scott Bakker’s series

The Great Ordeal (TGO) is the third book in the second series of R Scott Bakker’s apocalypse-based fantasy series, and he’s an author I’ve been reading for many years. If you’re new to his works, the word ‘grim’ comes to mind. None of these books are for the faint hearted, in particular TGO. The fantasy world is one of warring peoples, showing extreme cynicism and hostility towards one another, in general, and when peoples are united against a common foe it would be too light hearted to use the word ‘co-operation’.

The Great Ordeal

TGO is set in the second series, Aspect-Emperor, at a time when the great host are marching north to circumvent a second apocalypse foreseen by Kellhus Anasurimbor, the Aspect-Emperor. Kellhus decreed they had to eat their enemy for sustenance – the monstrous and lusty Sranc. The masses of enemy no longer look formidable, and the men conquer with eagerness, roasting them on fires, making jokes; and showing the usual disregard one can expect. Quite apart from the physical act of devouring, this brings out strange behaviours in the characters that aren’t really resolved. There are questions raised about Kellhus’ holiness, and how his generals can be happy with Kellhus’ doubt.

As with all of author R Scott Bakker’s books, there are a whole host of other things going on: a witch bent on killing the Anasurimbor family, a demon child, the immortal Nonmen switching allegiances, the truth behind the mind-reading Dunyain, and the advent of a Second Apocalypse. At their best you have an immensely rich world with intelligent characters surviving the most inhumane things, and at their worst you have factions, subplots, and confusion: meanings within meanings within meanings.

Praise

As with all of the books in both series, I was addicted. With abject horror, I had to know what would happen next. What would the truth be? Would this character die? My favourite character is the sorcerer Drusas Achamian. He has a balanced view on things, despite his weariness, and his awkwardness and frailty are oddly absurd in the cruel world. He’s every bit as human as the reader – I’d hope – swinging in extremes of emotion and taking vantage where he can. And let’s face it, we must feel sorry for him by now. He’s been beaten, witnessed horrors in the First Holy War, had his woman taken from him and impregnated by the super-human Kellhus, and then he’s betrayed again in the last book.

Criticism

It’s Sorweel, again, my least favourite character, the king-without-a-backbone. Whereas in the last book I took objection to his uncertain loyalties and his indecisiveness, this time I felt he was completely absent of personality; he was a pair of eyes digesting past characters and structures and sometimes the irrelevance was a bit much. This time the author has done something else clever with him to get around the weak character. That being said, the description and atmosphere was amazing in these scenes.

I wasn’t too excited about the travails of the lesser characters in the great host and their feats of masculinity and daring. And I did feel the end of the book was a bit choppy. I didn’t know exactly what was happening and of its relevance; it went by quickly, though on the other hand, it was extremely exciting.

Conclusion

I would have liked to have rated TGO more highly being part of one of my favourite series. There were engrossing chapters and then ones noted above that I wasn’t as keen on where I felt disconnected from the story. Overall, I did enjoy the book thoroughly for its addictive quality, and I will be reading the next!

 

 

Harsh Realities by CG Hatton – 5/5 Stars

Harsh Realities by CG Hatton - Front Cover

‘Confidentiality at a premium, clandestine seclusion guaranteed.’

The story up to now – the nature of the beast

‘There’s an organisation …’

Book one: there was a bounty on Hilyer, rough-around-the-edges field operative of the Thieves’ Guild (TG). Book two: there was a bounty on Luka (LC) Anderton, charming field operative of the TG. Book three: whoever messed with the above field operatives has decided to mess with NG, and they put an even bigger bounty on him. ‘Nobody messes with the TG’, but author CG Hatton’s series has proved that people keep messing with it and in all sorts of ways.

It’s daring to mess with a prominent figure of the TG, who is inaccessible to the grunts of the TG’s enemies. NG is in the first two books as this guy on the TG ship, the Alsatia, who everybody looks up to and receives orders from. He’s not the Man, of course; the Man is the mysterious figure pulling the strings of the TG, and probably most of the galaxy too.

Main character NG

‘Shit, I always knew you were a tough bastard, NG, but level five? Jesus, most people don’t make it past three.’

If you thought author CG Hatton would have run out of protagonists, you’d be mistaken in Harsh Realities (HR) book three of the TG Series. NG is conflicted, not because he’s physically battered like glutton-for-punishment Hilyer and not because he’s infected with a virus and is deciding on romantic boundaries like LC – NG already had some freakish abilities similar to the virus, we’re told, and it explains much. More often than not, NG is shown to be … knackered. Character after character tax his energy levels, and he has to single-handedly run the various departments of the TG, assimilate what they’re thinking because he can read their thoughts, fend off the advances of caring-predator Devon, and then also work out who put a bounty on him and attempted to kill him.

Story structure

Up to now, NG’s story coincides with what happened to LC and Hilyer in books one and two, and I couldn’t have been more pleased to have discovered the serious stuff that went down that linked the events in all three books together. The conspiracy is being mapped out, and although we know some of the players, we don’t know how they managed to carry out attacks, infiltrate the TG, and bring to bear such influence. Some organisations are named; in fact, I was a bit confused by some of them: Assassins, Order, and then UM and JU slipped my mind.

From 140 out of 360 pages, the story changes! My favourite page was P210 – I loved the show of unity. There are more than a few hints that there are aliens, or that their existence may be real. I was a bit concerned the story arc would vanish and I’d be fitted with a military science fiction first contact story, and I must say the plot slowed a bit here, but the build-up must have been a monumental challenge to write, and the story kept strong, circulating around the characters. I grew attached to the new character Hones, here. The subsequent events were pure TG, and this is where I have to say I loved the return of the field operatives, but from NG’s point of view, seeing all of them work in concert. There are some huge eye-opening revelations at the end of the book.

Harsh Realities by CG Hatton on Amazon

Letters of a Bloodline: Thicker Than Blood by Jay Puranik – 4/5 Stars

Letters of a Bloodline Thicker Than Blood by Jay Puranik - Front Cover
First impressions

You can read the excellent premise of author Jay Puranik’s stories and you could guess you’re in for a spectacular storyline, but it’s not until you’re actually reading that you know for sure it’s true. Not having read many historical fantasies of this type, I was expecting something slower paced with over-fixation on objects. How wrong I was!

What’s it about?

Thicker Than Blood is gritty, not for the faint hearted – and it starts off being about pirates, particularly notorious aging pirate Roughbeard. It’s that sweat-between-the-palms feeling of pirates – bloated bellies and brains inebriated with rum. Witnessing mutiny from his crew and betrayal from pirates who had served under him, Roughbeard and his crew are to be starved and tortured and there doesn’t seem any help for it, except a deal made to secure his freedom, which looks to be ever distant as his fellow prisoners have their throats slit.

I loved the way Jay Puranik introduces his readers to the main plot, aligning it with Roughbeard’s reputation and creating circumstances where a character would be privy to secrets they wouldn’t ordinarily be. The dialogue was engaging and main events run by with impact and speed.

As the author claims he does weave more than one story together in his books, and this was no exception. The second story is about a series of events occurring in ancient Egypt that inform the main thread running throughout the series of letters passed on through ancestors. I really liked the ‘telling’ of the story, which was notable in this second story.

I would be happy to read more of Jay Puranik’s fiction. It’s a shame the story was short, in a sense, because I would have liked to have read more of this story.

Author Website

The Moment Between Two Thoughts by Nick Crutchley – 5/5 Stars

The Moment Between Two Thoughts by Nick Crutchley

‘Hope is a vein of gold, faith makes the weakest soul bold, and loving kindness warms those lost in despairing cold.’

Corona-related quotes

‘The Xuan Wu district is under quarantine. Citizens, return to your homes.’ An unseen stealth drone booms its lie as it tries to prevent those infected by the Blood Plague pushing towards a closed-off bridge. ‘A vaccination is ready. Return home and prepare for immuno-psyberware code upload. Please comply or stunning and imprisonment will follow … Misery goes viral.’

What’s it about?

 ‘Chaos, let our wills collide, and in the moment between two thoughts decide the dream equilibrium of Dragonland.’

The Moment Between Two Thoughts (MBTT) is a battle between eco-terrorist group CHAOS and the spaceship New Hope’s psychic authority and guide Gaia, who leads the survivors of the human race to new planet Dragonland, which represents humanity’s last hope after we’ve ruined the planet. ‘Ruined the planet’, you may ask. There is a deadly virus called the Blood Plague, neo Nazis, and governments that pretends to care for the environment as a way of protecting their interests. All the while, it’s spelt out that ordinary people are consumers, too hacked in to the system and reliant on … upgrades, technology, entertainment, and fantasy.

But CHAOS doesn’t want the (privileged?) survivors to survive, ahem, instead wanting them to suffer for their crimes on Earth. Thereafter, we’re introduced to a battle of wills, mostly represented with symbolic good vs evil extravaganza – you’ll have to read it to see how awesome it is – but which is actually occurring in the consciousness of those aboard the ship!

How does MBTT compare with other science fiction and fantasy?

When I started, I felt it was reminiscent of Neuromancer and Blade Runner. There is certainly that cutting-edge feeling, of high-economy and low morals, but with an ecological twist. The author does this, at first, by taking consumerism to what reads like its natural extreme.

There are many ideas and links he makes, which would be especially interesting for people living in the high-tech society we do live in, of how past belief is similar to present marketing, and the fear of fire in Christian religion may be, through cultural osmosis, the psychic equivalent of hell in the network of devices called ‘psyberware’ that people are connected to – though I didn’t feel I knew exactly what psyberware was. ‘Work hard, party hard, and let your psyberware cook you up something illegal. It’s the only way to survive times like this.’

Conclusion

I was sucked into a world of author Nick Crutchley’s imagination, and when it ended, I felt I’d taken it with me. MBTT is addictive – the best quality, and not the only one of the author’s writing, having also read Nick Crutchley’s Deadweight. In MBTT, there was certainly that feeling of having lived through an epic and momentous conflict.

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The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman – 5/5 Stars

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman - Front Cover

‘The currency was called the corona.’

‘Hotels and cafes and warm-lit shops, all silent, all empty.’

‘No. I just found … a way in. Like your world, I suppose. It must be joined on.’

The Subtle Knife (TSK) can be mistaken for an adult book, with its focus on dark matter and interwoven realms that lead to magical worlds filled with dust, spectres, science, and doorways. It therefore has less of a make-believe magical or uplifting feeling that Northern Lights (NL) and children’s fiction typically have. In this way, I think I preferred TSK, for its covering new and interesting ground made it seem even more of a feat in fantasy writing, though it shared the excellent descriptions you’d expect to find in NL.

We’re introduced to Will!

There is another important character, Will, who has a good heart looking after his mother, hiding her from children and adults who antagonise her – the latter for obscure reasons – as he searches for his missing father. Will has survival skills, and it’s through Will that we’re introduced to the story, which gives it a normal everyday feel with a hint that something untoward or peculiar could happen, as you may find with muggles in Harry Potter.

Intriguing characters

There are adults in the realm we know – the one without talking polar bears – I was particularly intrigued by one in particular who reminded me of a well-to-do person in real life who had the trappings of luxury and success … I found the character Sir Charles intriguing as it’s hard for us to know whether to trust him at first and it can be hard for children to know this also, written as it is from children’s point of view.

Overall

In many ways, with hot air balloons and secret enemies, you feel you’re reading a cross between Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling, Indiana Jones, and … Philip Pullman. I can’t understand why anybody wouldn’t want to continue reading this novel fantasy series.

Author Website

 

Rhymes by John Paul Bernett – 5/5 Stars

Rhymes is a concise collection of poetry covering themes such as love, death, respect, environment/mother nature, depression, and family. I felt there was a new uplifting perspective on every topic written about, from an author who has lived through a variety of struggles, and still smiles.

Rhymes by John Paul Bernett - Front Cover

Author’s Facebook Page

 

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – 5/5 Stars

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury - Front Cover
First impressions

I thought it was to be taken for granted that the story was about burning books, after hearing about Fahrenheit 451 (F451) and reading the description, and upon reading the first chapters I wasn’t impressed with the beginning of the story, feeling it was a touch simplistic, and nothing I’d not covered before in dystopian fiction. The main character, Montag, works as a fireman burning books, and his eyes are immediately opened as to how happy he is by a young (flirtatious?) girl, who is too young for the married fireman yet represents the youth he’s left behind himself. She’s spontaneous, curious, and energetic; everything he’s not allowed to be.

I was wrong – excellent story!

From humble beginnings, the story circulates around Montag’s daily life and everything wrong with it: his wife’s suicide attempt, the blaring intrusion of wall screens in his living room, his fear of the Hound, an ongoing internal and external war, and the burning of zealous innocent readers who hoard away books.

The Hound: ‘Light flickered on bits of ruby glass and on sensitive capillary hairs in the nylon-brushed nostrils of the creature that quivered gently, gently, gently, its eight legs spidered under it on rubber-padded paws.

But there is far more wrong with the world than even what’s before Montag’s eyes. Most notable is his antagonist and boss Beatty, a book-burning fireman who spouts quotes remembered from when he did read to mentally challenge any possible counter-argument Montag may think to conjure. In this way Beatty is a hypocrite, seeing himself as having superior knowledge to any who may read, in his justification of the status-quo:

‘Whirl man’s mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters, that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought.’

‘There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.’

Some impactful quotes:

‘But remember the captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority. Oh, God, the terrible tyranny of the majority.’

‘We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel, drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over, so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.’

Overall

F451 is a story you need to read if you’re into dystopian fiction. It takes you to the roots of humanity and compares it solidly with a plausible version of those who represent what could be deemed its opposite: the mindset of the silent conforming majority coupled with the zeal of book-burning firemen. It has that feeling Philip K Dick books have, of putting you in the shoes of a character who has to fight his or her way through an oppressive system, and there were interesting characters and groups in society Montag comes across. Highly recommended.

Author Website