Liberty Farm by Dean Biddulph – 5/5 Stars

Liberty Farm by Dean Biddulph - LF_cover_front

*Liberty Farm is a new release due 1st May 2020.*
Get it before everyone else here!

‘Dyspheria is, always was, and always will be, the greatest threat to humanity.’

Liberty Farm (LF) is a prescient dystopian novel of a future Earth that has been saved by the ‘Writer’ after a mass outbreak of the VIRUS, dyspheria, ended what was left of human civilisation. People are safe now they’re in Liberty Farm but something is amiss when the Writer is ready to step down from his position and allow a politician clone Dean Perish to replace him, making systems monitor Christopher deeply uncomfortable … The virus has never been under control, but it’s getting worse, and a mysterious red-haired woman keeps appearing to leave Christopher clues. Is there more behind the rumours of hacking, and Liberty Farm itself, than life as he knows it?

As with comparable classics by George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, and Philip K Dick, Liberty Farm is about hiding the truth; and the relentless uncompromising search for a solution to the inconvenient human individual’s freedom, love, creativity, and imagination.

Same as the classics, but how is LF different?

Liberty Farm transcends time, linking outdated ideas of the human being’s ideal appearance and performance to the ideal resident – not citizen – who is completely reliant on external technology in the farm and is expected to support the most popular electoral candidates; and this compliance is enforced through intrusive surveillance in public areas and regular internal assessments. I mean, residents are basically hooked into the mainframe that monitors their behaviour. Christopher can’t get too excited, or probably even fart, without his bosses knowing about it.

The idea of perfection of the rehabilitated resident is the driving force in life for dormant and lower-class symptomatic residents, to become ‘the emune’ who are entitled to material privileges. You’ve got to work for your future, the dream, to become the emune. In this sense, I felt LF was a criticism of modern-day meritocracy, of chasing the out-of-reach dream that is presented to us.

LF is a dystopian novel of severity

Technology has advanced to regulate behaviour with audioprogramming feeding nonsense sensations and emotions into our ears to help with work performance while holographic screens circulate before our eyes. Every time Christopher is in the public bar Body, he’s exposed to the ‘libervision’ news.

Our BRAINs are not our own

1) They’re downloading updates to and from the mainframe.
2) ‘BRAINs released small doses of reward chemicals during the shopping experience itself as well as larger amounts after purchases.’
3) The media plays strongly on the threat to BRAINs hackers pose from those lower-class symptomatic residents – where dyspheria is prevalent.

How did all this happen? It started with a virus: ‘Lived to this day by all its residents, still affected by the disease more than a century after the Outbreak’. And it really is still lived to this day: ‘Residents are politely asked to finish their drinks and return to their homes by nine for hibernation. Return to your home by nine for hibernation.’

Overall

LF has a strong foundation in psychiatry and lucid dreaming, as well as the science fiction dystopian genre itself. For readers who want to read what Earth could be like in so many years, LF is a plausible account, original in its construction. I’d say it’s for readers who like to be intellectually challenged, to see the world from different angles and immerse themselves in the dimensions and texture of the farm. The feeling throughout is one of calm gentle curiosity, and though LF can be compared to classics in quality and genre, you finish realising you haven’t read a book quite like it.

Liberty Farm – Website

To Be Taught If Fortunate by Becky Chambers – 5/5 Stars

To Be Taught If Fortunate by Becky Chambers - Front Cover

‘If I ask what I’m asking only of people who agree with me at the outset, with whom I already share a dream and a language, then there is no point asking at all.’

What is it?

To Be Taught If Fortunate (TBTIF) is a concise novel about team space exploration, so for those wishing to make a comparison to The Martian, it’s not a one-man survival on Mars. Using ‘somaforming’ instead of terraforming to make the explorers themselves adapted to the environment, we’re introduced to a new way of thinking on how space exploration can be carried out.

Who is TBTIF for?

If you’re looking for a violent military space opera, TBTIF is the wrong sort of book for that, having a tone of empathy, collaboration, research, and educational wonder.

If you’ve dreamt of what might be out there in space, what trials would wait, and on the meaning of life that transcends what we experience on Earth, I’d say this is the book for you.

Easy to grow fondness for

I learnt so much just in the first 13 pages about how sitting morgue-like frozen in space without a private chamber is unrealistic, unlike what you see in the movies, and of the radiation and cancer-risk danger of flying above the surface of the Earth 100 miles, never mind in space.

We slowly come to generate fondness for some of the characters: innocent main protagonist Ariadne, firm and leader-like Elena, child-like Chikondi, and gruff and irascible Jack. Indeed, Elena has the most personality, being a stickler for double-checking, keeping fixed routines without interruption, and asserting her knowledge in a way that can facilitate the team’s decisions.

Conclusion

I didn’t feel anything was missing in TBTIF, and I was surprised at how relatable and interesting the prose was, even though it covers topics that are anything but relatable to laypeople. Nice book.

Becky Chambers’ Website

Dishonesty is the Second-Best Policy by David Mitchell – 5/5 Stars

Dishonesty is the Second-Best Policy byDavid Mitchell - Front Cover
How I acquired this book?

I chuckled at David Mitchell’s jokes when he was on a chat show on TV, and I received the book as a Christmas gift, perplexed at first that I’d been bought a book written by a comedian. Miserable hermit that I am, I don’t think I’d ever read such, but I was looking forward to giving it a try.

What is this book?

I supposed I expected a humorous take on the book, but I didn’t actually know what its contents would cover. Dishonesty is the Second-Best Policy (DSBP) is not a memoir or necessarily an autobiography – it’s a commentary on life, changing attitudes in the 21st century, David Mitchell’s rather personal opinions, and the political situation in the United Kingdom. I’d say it’s most similar to a satirical political reflection.

Is it good?

I wouldn’t say it definitely has to depend too much on your political beliefs whether you can enjoy listening to David Mitchell or reading the contents of the book. I like to think I’m open-minded enough to agree and disagree with equal measure – it didn’t stop me laughing and it didn’t stop me appreciating the author’s point of view. I began reading with a wry grin at first, and some sentences weren’t easy to wrap my head around – I had to picture the author saying it.

Not being well versed with politics, I took much of what has happened in the last 10 years at face value, and became acquainted with ‘new’ events, and the book did this superbly. Every time I was spotted reading it, I remember smiling at whatever passage I was reading, and sometimes it became too much and I was in a fit of laughter.

Conclusion

I had the sincere belief I was reading something heretical or written by a Renaissance man – of somebody born in the wrong century who is forced to live among customs that he doesn’t agree with, which makes me laugh as I write this, so it’s testament to the enjoyment I gained from DSBP. I’m curious about David Mitchell’s other books now, and I’ve confidence they’ll be worth chuckling over.

David Mitchell on Twitter

 

An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns by Chloe Rhodes – 4/5 Stars

An Unkindness of Ravens - Front Cover

There is much to learn in this short collection of collective nouns, of how they were used by the nobility in medieval times to categorise animals to hunt, or even colloquially in medieval times to describe certain groups of people with distinct attributes, separating the noble born from peasants There are small sections in each entry charting the evolution of the nouns later and sometimes up until the present, showing you comparative differences in their use.

An Unkindness of Ravens gave me a picture of medieval life and its customs, and its similarities and differences to the present. Beyond that it held a quirky branch of knowledge every time I dipped in to read the entries.

Not all of the book can be read with enjoyment from start to finish as some entries weren’t as immediately interesting as others – in some senses the book can be of more use as a dictionary.

Still, much enjoyment was had in the novelty of reading the nouns, and there is a high chance I’ll have much fun revisiting the book.

Publisher’s website

Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl by Michael Moorcock – 5/5 Stars

Elric: Fortress of the Pearl - Front Cover

‘Never again would she know that self-destructive pride so familiar to all great empires in decline.’

‘Yet some of us can refuse the destiny that the Lords of Law and Chaos set out for us and still survive, still create something which the gods are forbidden to touch.’

Patient, expansive, and filled with oriental mystique, Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl (ETFP) is a completely different story to its precursor Elric of Melnibone (EM), which was concerned with courtly intrigue, empire, and tragedy.

As with EM, we see Elric at his weakest and strongest, woken up to find he’s given sustenance by an elixir that saps his life-force and causes addiction, putting him at the mercy of his captor’s supplies; and yet he’s armed with soul-sucking sword, the Stormbringer, which is only too happy to have its thirst sated. And so, placed in a precarious position by the elixir, but more concerned about the fate of a slave boy than his welfare, Elric strikes a bargain with greedy Lord Gho Fhaazi of the city-in-decline Qhazhasaat, to secure the Pearl at the Heart of the World, whatever that is …

Elric is motivated more by the boy’s safety than his need for the antidote but he doesn’t know why he put himself in a position beforehand to have to agree to the quest when he longs for his love Cymoril, who he left at the mercy of her brother in Imyyr. Am I the only reader who wonders, just what was Elric thinking? His unusual and moral behaviour is partly what makes the series as compelling as it is with his drive to grow for the good of the empire.

What’s good?

Beyond the setting out of a beautiful world – or simply worldbuilding – with colour, tribal customs, and treacherous allegiances, ETFP introduces us to dreamthieves and a quest through dream worlds reminiscent of Dante’s Nine Circles of hell but quite different in its seducing of innermost desires, nostalgia, and other hopes and dreams that can distract from selfless priorities. I was strongly reminded of Arabian Nights with the lustrous colour, marketplaces, strange beasts, and vicious horsemen.

Is it as good as the first book?

Yes, although the patient delivery of description may take some getting used to as Elric is apart from the central figures of court. Also missing are the high powerful entities of Chaos. Once you’re past those you realise you’re in for a quest that sweeps you into a world you want to be a part of, in dreams where odd things happen, odd creatures thrive, and odd desires penetrate.

Author’s Website

 

 

Use of Weapons by Iain M Banks – 2/5 Stars

Use of Weapons - Front Cover

First impressions

As you can see by the rating, Use of Weapons wasn’t my favourite Banks book. I expected an interstellar adventure or a high thrills space action with fascinating characters, as with his other books, and I thought it was given that I’d get the aforementioned awesome story from the blurb. The reviews online were positive.

What worked well?

There were more than a few conversations of interest between Zakalwe, Sma, and the machine Skaffen-Amtiskaw: jibes about human and machine intelligence and the singularly humorous design of the machines in Banks’ novels. Some stories about Zakalwe’s past caught my attention more than others, and what I remember most vividly are the horrors.

Criticism

The prose made me dizzy. (Speaking of dizzy, one of the characters is actually called Diziet Sma!) The aim of the story, I believe, was to show there is a special agent called Cheradenine Zakalwe who has lived an impressively long life even his Culture employers don’t know all the details about and this is why some characters and environments are designed to be fleeting, unnecessary to remember even, for the reader. As you can imagine, when the reader doesn’t need to remember all the events they feel inconsequential to the story. There was a revealing conclusion that was eye opening, though I did not feel there were enough hints earlier in the story for the reveal to make sense.

Conclusion

Most of the story I didn’t enjoy, and I wanted to get to the end as soon as possible, which was unfortunate. In future I may be more careful which Banks books I choose to read. Some can be overwhelmingly fantastic, while others, as in this case, can disappoint.

Be More Yoda by DK Publishing – 4/5 Stars

Be More Yoda - Front Cover

Be More Yoda is actually a helpful little book on mindful thinking. Though many of the lessons are veiled in the references to the characters and movies, making it more fun, the core principles can be relevant to life too, if you only think to apply it, which can be a first step in mindfulness now I think about it.

The book has helped me realise I don’t always live in the moment, thinking forever about plans for the future, and this doesn’t help me enjoy life sometimes, by needing to pass the time with fixed jobs instead of being aware what’s actually happening around in my space to help me enjoy life to the maximum.

Sometimes believing in absolutes or seeking fixed solutions to life’s problems doesn’t help either, as the book advises against. In this way, in my own case, it has helped warn me against obsessive thought patterns and black and white thinking.

I’d have liked the book to be expanded or in more detail, and then I may have gotten more out of it, but there are also advantages to it being a quick read, making mindfulness accessible.

I was surprised by how much help the book was. I expected to chuckle a few times and then discard it, but to feel wisdom in the pages means I got more out of it. Thanks DK Publishing.

http://www.dk.com/

Deadweight by Nick Crutchley – 5/5 Stars – Book Review and Free Kindle Codes

‘This autobiographical novel is therefore not about me, it’s about you.’

The close emotional personal experiences of author Nick Crutchley – many painful – were not easy to write about in this review, never mind for the author. I shall try my best.

Deadweight by Nick Crutchley - front cover

Initial impressions

I didn’t know what was happening at first, or why, but it was a serious Incident (no spoilers here). The following chapters give us an insight into why it may have happened, but nothing is clear. What I did grasp afterward was that beyond Nick’s initial positive interest in the spiritual and fantasy there’s a lot of pressure on him, evoking great sadness. My interpretation of Deadweight early on was that trouble in family and in teenage friendships/relationships may have had an impact on the Incident, but it’s difficult to be certain.

We move on, and though Nick is often with friends his isolation grows, like a fracturing away. I noticed fewer new positive friendships were mentioned later on, and it’s more awkward with those he already has. I’m unsure how I felt about this fracturing away when reading. As far as I know, there were elements of a few mental illnesses involved. And Nick sought a solution to his problems himself. There was a memorable point in the book after the Incident when he said, ‘the deadweight compresses memories and feelings as I realise no one will ever listen’.

What’s it about?

It’s an autobiography about serious mental illness, pressure, betrayal, friendship, desperation, and hope. To elaborate, Deadweight is author Nick Crutchley’s journey from teenage years to adulthood, covering his friendships, his experiences, and his hard times.

The subject matter is serious, yet I found the delivery addictive as we dive into personalities and situations that move the ‘protagonist’ forward, and so to me it reads like interwoven short stories, with some characters reappearing or getting mentioned again and others fading into obscurity without conclusion; that’s life, I suppose. Part II held most of my attention, being focused on strong bonds and revolving around a spiritual game. In the way it was written I foresaw two possibilities occurring, and one did.

What did it remind me of?

Initially I thought – not being a big autobiography reader – that Deadweight dives into personal experiences in vivid detail that reminded me of Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham. Soon I realised it was not like anything I had read, unlike a fiction story with a beginning-middle-end structure, and compressed with lots of subtle hidden meanings; with a magical, spiritual, and conspiratorial edge.

Is there something to learn from Deadweight?

I think there is. The following thoughts are my own conclusions. I gathered that the author grew up in a time when mental illness was less understood and accepted. When communication with family fails, and when friendships fail and become more distant, there is no support. There is no open channel of communication with those you do know, and none from any external provider. You’re treated as if you have a disease, left alone to find your own solution, and I think this must make things worse. The aim of Deadweight is to promote a more compassionate society, and I think it certainly does this by showing what happens when there is no compassion. A reader only displays a smidgen of the author’s bravery: the author who recorded his close, personal, and painful experiences to the public to help others. It brings a tear to my eye.

Nick Crutchley’s Website

Free Kindle Codes

Fantastic news for readers: I’ve available one US Kindle code and one UK Kindle code of Deadweight by Nick Crutchley. The first two readers to comment on this post will be sent the link to their email address.

 

 

 

Sea of Glass by Rebecca Gransden – 4/5 Stars

Sea of Glass by Rebecca Gransden - Front Cover

What’s it about?

It’s a twisted dark game: a battle between good and evil after an unknown sense-messing explosion. Kattar takes refuge in a building, taking granted ‘what is’, and he only wants to find the exit, for there is danger lurking within the tower.

First impressions

I did find the premise to be interesting: someone trapped in a glass tower looking for the exit, and I wondered if I was reading some form of visionary crime thriller, though the reviews told me otherwise. First impressions were of surreal oddness, smacking of retro science fiction style. Something was happening, and I wasn’t sure what, beyond a sense of chaos and crazy irrelevant characters made relevant by such statements as ‘there’s not much sense around’, and objects made convenient by their bizarre lack of convenience, with an old man’s glasses for example. I rather think this style continued throughout, and it was unusual.

Next, we behold a sense of wonder. What situation is Kattar in exactly? He’s trapped in a building because of a black cloud caused by the explosion of a white van, causing the building to be in lockdown, and he can’t get to the areas he usually does. It turns out he actually works in the building as a cleaner. Kattar was already a part of the building and whatever happens in it before the start of the novella. Surely, it can only be in lockdown for a temporary period of time, and so we’re introduced to a fascinating series of events that may play out, but we’re still not sure what exactly. Will there be a mass killer on the loose and he has to find the exit? Have they no rooms for him to stay in during the night?

Praise

Imagery in Sea of Glass could make you cringe, hide, vomit, or gaze in stupefied, fascinated terror. And that’s before you’re introduced to what may be happening in the tower. There is fear, pervasive inability to escape, and ruthless punishment. The rest is the reader’s surprise!

The author should write more of this fiction, being unique, entertaining, stimulating, and macabre. The premise was excellent, which helped. The imagery and description was the most gruesome I’d ever read. Kattar’s experiences were eye opening, all the better described and imaginative for being nonsensical and of dubious relevance.

I’m feeling two things about the existence of Rebecca Gransden’s fiction: elation it exists, and concern.

Criticism

As a novella, I’m unsure how well the story worked. My impression was one of vivid, yet fleeting images, much of it deliberately nonsensical as a result of the style. It could be that I was not used to the symbolism and the metaphorical language, leaving me in the dark. There were a few passages I had to reread, and this didn’t always bother me unless I couldn’t fathom the subject. I believe this was personal taste; I don’t know how the existence of the symbolism and metaphorical language could be changed.

We weren’t given opportunity to explore some aspects as much as I’d have liked. Some reviewers commented on how the places could have been described with more clarity, and I think I agree. In the theatre, I still wasn’t sure what was where. A bit more time for Kattar to take his bearings before the author describes them may have helped me develop a clearer image.

Author’s message

There was, I believe, with the poetical and metaphorical language and digressions, a corporate thread or message in Sea of Glass and I wasn’t sure exactly what was being shown, but perhaps the twisted, hellish, sadistic, broken-relationship that can exist in such environments. There were characters with their own selfish agendas and realms within the building that differed enormously. That theatre was sinister! I’d quite like to hear more about author Rebecca Gransden’s message.

Conclusion

Sea of Glass was an experience in reading a style I haven’t come across, with writing that has a sense of shocking immediacy and scenes that bend so far away from reality it makes you wonder why it is you’re so engrossed in them. Author Rebecca Gransden is wielding some powerful writing material.

Read more of author Rebecca Gransden’s writing

Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock – 5/5 Stars

Elric by Michael Moorcock - Front Cover
First impressions

I was expecting an anti-hero ruler with a measure of villainous strength. However, the story actually begins differently, giving the reader a premonition of tragedy as we’re introduced to the main characters of Elric’s court: Elric, his enemy Yyrkoon, Dyvim Tvar, and Elric’s love interest Cymoril who happens to be Yyrkoon’s sister. You can already imagine the tension surrounding Cymoril in the court.

We step in the shallow end with the origins of Elric, showing him to be a benevolent ruler more preoccupied with morals, mercy, and wisdom than with following the aggressive military traditions of Imrryr – a city inhabited by a god-like race of those who can practice sorcery. Elric’s physical weaknesses and unconventional approach to being a ruler brings him enemies, typically Yyrkoon who wishes to make Imrryr great again and to wage war on the Young Kingdoms — kingdoms composed of ordinary folk — as per Imrryr tradition.

It’s something old, but is it anything new?

What’s most admirable about Elric is that he won’t be swayed by the advice of Cymoril or Dyvim Tvar, even when they have his best interests at heart. It’s admirable, yet at the same time it was difficult for me to see Elric as anything more than a weak figurehead obsessed with pacifism and ideals … he was almost asking for something tragic and eye opening to happen. Suffice to say there is something of destiny and a reliance on gods, goddesses, and sorcery. Sounds like your typical sword-and-sorcery or heroic fantasy, and it is punchy and pared down compared to something like Tolkien. The introductions aren’t lengthy, and the plot barrels forward with the use of ideas and devices that will fascinate and intrigue the reader, and I’ll not say any more than that.

No spoilers but what can I expect later on in the story?

As the story progresses Yyrkoon tests Elric’s power further, trying to manipulate him into remaining at court while he goes to confront the bold Young Kingdom fleet. Later on, it’s a battle of wits as much as sorcery, magical objects galore, and on who the gods favour more. Both characters can see through one another’s plans, though Elric is wiser and less reckless.

Overall

The best fantasy writing I’ve ever read, from renowned author Michael Moorcock. The character Elric and those surrounding him infuse his quests with moral dilemmas and tragedy, and there is enough fighting and ground-shaking conflict to remind you Elric is able to take care of himself and there is a lot at stake.