Tuesday, 28 December 2010
Friday, 24 December 2010
Sunday, 19 December 2010
Saturday, 11 December 2010
Tuesday, 7 December 2010
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
Monday, 29 November 2010
Thursday, 18 November 2010
In this book it's called the Hard Rapture. America goes to war, and its war machines are so advanced they become sentient and start uploading people using the internet while irradiating the planet. The machines/uploads then become posthuman, create a network of wormholes across the galaxy, leave a bunch of unfathomable relics a la Roadside Picnic and disappear onto a different plane of existence where, it's suggested, they've made faster than light travel possible in our universe. We're told singularities start coming thick and fast after the first one's reached.
Monday, 15 November 2010
Again, it's based on real people and events. If you're going to make something up, stick it in space I say. It's the story of two men - George, who's a solicitor of Indian descent who gets accused of some horrific crimes (the mysterious but strangely popular phenomenon of horse ripping, as well as a bizarre campaign of hate) and Sir Arthur Conan Dolyle who...well, hell, you know who HE is .
Sunday, 14 November 2010
Saturday, 13 November 2010
It's also got people being possessed by parasitical worms, a massive jellyfish in someone's house, a car full of cockroaches and an exploding dog. And there's always the sense that "is this really happening, or have I gone insane?" It works because the horror isn't treated as a joke - that comes from the characters, primarily John. He's a penis obsessed knucklehead with an endless supply of Arnie-type puns as he whacks demons. Wong is the opposite - a gloomy guilt-ridden pessimist who falls in love and learns that he isn't a hero. Luckily, he's also hilarious.
Monday, 8 November 2010
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
This is book three in the series. If you've seen the David Lynch film, you know how the first book ends - the good Paul Maud'Dib defeats the baddies on the back of a sandworm and becomes Emperor of the Universe. Hooray! Book two, Dune Messiah, begins after a religious jihad has swept the universe in Paul's name killing 61 billion people. Um...hooray?
As you might expect in Children of Dune the focus is on Paul's children. Leto and Ghamina are nine years old, but since they both have the memories of all their ancestors, they don't really act like kids. A side effect of way too much spice. It's the same story with Paul's sister Alia, who's acting as their regent. And she's not coping all that well with the whole memory thing.
The plot's all about plotting - they can't help trying to kill each other (and I do like assassination by cat.) Each conversation plays out like a chess game, with moves and countermoves which are entirely different to what the words mean on the surface. These scenes are exhilirating and never turn out the way you expect. You can apply that to the whole book as well.
I love how the Dune universe is one of contradictions. The stuff of which fuels everything only grows on a virtually dead planet. It's set in the far future, but it feels ancient. They travel between the stars but technology is feared and hated. You've got religion and mysticism coming up against realpolitik and ecology. Even things like the medieval/byzantine culture of the galaxy contrasting with the arabic mythology on Dune. So much to get your teeth into.
Most people reckon the Dune books get increasingly ropey, until the myriad prequels co-written by Herbert's son which I've heard are virtually unreadable. For the moment, I'm still riding that sandworm rollercoaster.
Sunday, 31 October 2010
Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Thursday, 21 October 2010
Here's the central idea: in the centre of the Milky Way a void has been discovered which occassionally expands and eats up space. Well, they say void, but humans know what's going on inside, because they're dreaming about it. And they want to be part of it.
So you've got a religion based around these dreams which wants to enter the void, and other factions, including powerful aliens, who want to stop them because it could destroy the galaxy.
Then you've got the dreams themselves which are told throughout the books (this part of the trilogy in particular) so you only learn slowly why so many people want to be part of it.
There's another Hamilton trilogy set in a different universe which is a mixture of sci fi and horror (the dead return in a strange way) and this is another play with genre - science fiction and fantasy. As always with this writer the sci fi is top drawer. Amazing ideas aplenty, and actually used well. Especially powerful is how communication technology develops, with everyone having telepathy and empathy through nanotechnology.
The fantasy side of things is also great, and concerns a world where everyone has psychic powers, but one individual - "the Waterwalker" - has powers that could be limitless. Arthur C Clarke's assertion that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic is being played with here.
It's really well plotted, the characters are good and the action sequences are clear and exciting. Quality stuff. But I read the first part of the trilogy, what, six months ago? And it still took me a few hundred pages to get to grips with who everyone was and what they were doing. A "previously in the Void trilogy" would have been helpful. But what's even more annoying is that as the books progress, there are more and more elements introduced from two earlier books (Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained) set 1200 years before, but featuring many of the same characters. I wish I'd read them first, but these books are all at least 700 pages long. A big investment, but worth it I reckon.
Now I'm reading Children of Dune by Frank Herbert which blows all of them out of the water. Or sand.
Monday, 11 October 2010
Saturday, 2 October 2010
Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Sunday, 26 September 2010
Saturday, 18 September 2010
Friday, 17 September 2010
FBI agent Robert Ressler coined the term "serial killer" back in the mid 70s. It's one of those phrases you'd imagine has been round forever, but before that they were called "stranger killings." The new terminology recognised that someone was killing in the same way again and again. He also notes in retrospect how they're similar to the old movie serials. Every one excites you, but ends in a cliffhanger. You need to watch the next one to get another kick, but you're never sated.
Ressler was also the first man who went round the prisons trying to find out what made them tick. The book starts with Richard Trenton Chase, who killed familes and drank their blood to stop Nazi UFOs turning his blood to dust. He's one archetype here - the disorganised killer. Your basic nutjob kill crazy maniac, who doesn't even bother to wipe the blood off his t-shirt.
Your second archetype therefore is the organised killer. A psychopath, but not mentally disorded. Often intelligent and charming, they plan out the hunt and hide the evidence. Much of the book's about this type, as Ressler can actually get a conversation going with these guys. Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Ed Kemper are your go-to killers here (though Ressler seems to really hate Bundy - Kemper he's pretty cool with.)
The main point here is that all serial killings are sexual, even if there's no obvious sexual element. It's all about the fantasy taking over - fantasies which start in an abusive or otherwise dysfunctional childhood. It did leave me wondering about Harold Shipman.
Ressler pioneered criminal profiling, which is clearly still a touchy subject, but there's a lot of evidence here to show how it can help in an investigation (Peter Sutcliffe for instance, though the haters never listened) without it being a magic bullet, or an alternative to actual police work.
Saturday, 11 September 2010
Tuesday, 7 September 2010
Sunday, 5 September 2010
- WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOOK AND MOVIE
The Prestige is worse than all of them. Possibly the worst book I've ever read.
If you've seen the film, then you'll have had a taste of the balderdash herein. Two dull and unpleasant stage magicians from the late 19th century carry on an unconvincing feud for a number of years. Let's call them Penn and Teller.
Penn has a trick where he vanishes at one end of the stage and reappears at the other. Teller is intrigued. He's told Penn must use a double, but he's unconvinced. Instead he's
sent on a wild goose chase by Penn with one word - Tesla!
So Teller is tricked into going to Nebraska, and asking Nikola Tesla to build him a transporter. Piece of piss says Tesla, much easier than transporting energy. Oh, and I need it to transport something living. He's in luck as that's much easier than transporting inanimate objects. The machine is built
Just to make clear - there's been no earlier suggestion that Tesla could do this. Tesla didn't even know he could do this! He certainly doesn't make another, just drops out of view.
Now because Christopher Nolan is generally a maker of quality bollocks, the movie has the interesting twist that Teller (or Batman. Or Woverine, I forget) ends up with two living copies every time he does this, so he has to kill one each time, and that leads to his rival being framed for murder. This doesn't happen in the book. Instead Penn accidentally unplugs the machine mid-act. So there are two imperfect versions of Teller. Neither of whom does anything.
The Prestige really is a masterclass in terrible plotting. A series of mishaps and boneheaded coincidences, and the solutions to the central riddles manage to be both bizarre and banal. There so much more stupidity to go into, but I've said more than enough. It's probably bad form to describe so much of the "plot" and I won't make habit of it, but this book has already spoiled itself.