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DEATH’S HEAD By David Gunn – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2011 by stanleyriiks

Amazon suggested this book to me because of a previous purchase of one of Andy Remic’s books. Andy Remic writes the kind of fast-paced, action-packed SF and fantasy stories that thrill and entertain in equal measure, so I was looking forward to this one.

For once amazon got it pretty much spot on.

Sven is an ex-sergeant Legionnaire who is about to be lashed to death for insubordination, until a group of Ferox (unfriendly Wookie-type creatures) attack the out-post he’s stationed at, killing everyone but him. One of the massive alien beasts talks to Sven using telepathy and Sven is taken back to their camp where he lives with them as a kind of pet.

This is the beginning of Sven’s adventures.

When the cave system the Ferox live in is attacked and Sven is saved, he becomes a tool of the General, given mission where the army needs deniability. Sven’s unique abilities and his tougher than shit attitude not only get him into trouble, but also out of it, as he tackles prison, treason, war and command.

Ok, so Sven’s adventures feel very much organic, the plotting for the novel seems to have happened during the writing process and each episode doesn’t connect too much with what follows or what came before other than occasional details, but that doesn’t matter.

The haphazard plotting makes it feel like a real adventure, and you can’t help but enjoy Sven’s “fuck you” attitude. This guys got huge balls and isn’t afraid to display them for all to see. You want Sven to win, whatever it is he’s doing. He’s one of those grumpy bastards, like Kell, Conan and Druss, that we’re used to seeing in fantasy fiction, but a lot less so in SF. Here we have a true hero, who knows the difference between right and wrong, but does things he own ways, whether it gets him into trouble or not.

So the aliens involved in the final battle all become a bit confused, and you’re not sure quite who’s fighting who, but who cares!

Sven is what carries the story on, and Gunn gives us a great helping of action to keep things speeding along nicely so we don’t get too worried about the details. Great fun, the kind of book that puts a grin on your face. A boy’s own adventure in space.

THE SNOWBALL: WARREN BUFFETT AND THE BUSINESS OF LIFE By Alice Shroeder – Reviewed

Posted in Life..., Personal Finance, Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2010 by stanleyriiks

Despite this being an epic book, I expected more.

How can you sum up the Oracle of Omaha? The most successful investor in the history of investing?

For a man over seventy years old, having his life described in a little over 700 pages gives us about a 100 pages per ten years. Even though the first page is so awash with description (of Buffett sitting in his office) that it’s difficult to read, what we don’t get in the full Warren Buffett. We get a version, the tight-fisted, thrifty, intelligent, teacher, who’s more at ease with numbers than he is with human beings, and certainly more comfortable dealing with a class room full of students than he is with his own children. A man obsessed with making money and keeping it. To the point where much of the time his family acted almost, but not quite, as a distraction, and Buffett doesn’t particularly like distractions.

The failure of this book is the lack of detail about some of Buffett’s investments. Probably the most important part of his life, not only for him but also for most of his readers. We get the glamorous stuff, and we also get the dirty stuff, but where’s the detail of the stuff that made him his money?

Most of the information contained in the book can be found on Buffett’s wikipedia entry. The details of his earlier life are interesting, and the milestones he achieved in his early years are quite extraordinary. But I want a map. I want to see what he invested in, at how much and why: I want a description of how he made his billions. I don’t understand how a book so huge and detailed about Buffett’s life but be so bereft of such important details.

For a financial analyst Shroeder doesn’t seem very interested in the money.

This is certainly an interesting book, and Warren’s life as a self-made man certainly holds your attention. But the missing details of his investments, the things that are skipped over, or just not even mentioned, serve to give us only half an image of this great investor.

Buffett is still my hero, with the knowledge gained from this book even more so. We share much in common, he had a paper-round, as did I. Buffett was making money as a child, as did I, once getting in trouble at school for telling my friends toys. Buffett also skirted a bit too close to the law, well, I’m refusing to comment on that! He was also buying shares before he was sixteen. I bought shares in my mother’s name because I was too young to have them in my own. Unfortunately, and I really don’t know what happened (perhaps discovering horror novels), but our paths diverged and I’m not a billionaire.

This is a personal and probably the most detailed of the books on Buffett, and yet it still doesn’t manage to capture the complete man. It does capture most of him, and it’s a moving story, but I almost feel short changed.

Amazing book, and yet still slightly disappointing.

DIFFERENT SKINS By Gary McMahon – Reviewed

Posted in Morpheus Tales Magazine, Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2009 by stanleyriiks

I wrote this review a few weeks ago. I think it’s a good review, and it will be published in the first edition of the Morpheus Tales Review Supplement. Before putting it up here I wondered how the space and distant I’ve had since reading the book had changed my opinion. Actually, it hasn’t. I think that Different Skins is an amazing book, both the stories are moving and emotion-evoking. You can’t help but be sucked into the worlds that McMahon creates, the stories actually touch you emotionally and intellectually. That’s what I look for in my life, I don’t just want to read a book, I want to experience it. That what happens with Different Skins. I cannot recommend this book enough. Go do yourself a favour and buy this book:

http://www.screamingdreams.com

This is one of those books that it is a pleasure to hold. It feels nice. It looks stunning, the cover and back cover by Vincent Chong are exquisite. Even the interior looks and feels nice, it feels like you’re holding a good quality book in your hands. It feels very similar to the limited editions from Blood Letting Press, except in paperback.

OK, so it doesn’t particularly matter what the book feels like, it’s the content that really matters. Right? But my point is that it does matter, holding a book that feels nice just adds to the pleasure. And this book can be judged on its beautifully subtle and disturbing cover.

Introductions are normally a waste of time unless they’re by the author, Tim Lebbon’s intro doesn’t stray too far from this. But he does mention that he read McMahon’s stories as a writer would. I completely agree with him on this, although I probably read as a writer differently to Mr. Lebbon. McMahon’s stories, two novellas in this collection, are packed with ideas and details and phrases that I wish I’d written, that I want to use in one of my stories. There are just so many “I wish I’d thought of that” moments!

The first story, Even The Dead Die, is a ghost story set in a London occupied by the dead, and it’s so rich and powerful that it made me feel like a teenager again, discovering my first horror story. Every page sparkles with ideas and brilliance, it’s like reading the very best of Neil Gaiman or Clive Barker. McMahon’s London is dark and nasty and brutal, but it’s also perversely beautiful. And so is his first story, dark, rich, tragic, powerfully and perversely beautiful.

The second story really shows the breadth of McMahon’s skill. In The Skin is a very different story, a personal tale of loss and neglect, a story of life. The story of Dan, who goes on a business trip to New York and upon his return, finds that his son is not quite the same, that his wife is slightly different. His family is not who they were before he left. The second story in the collection is as different as it possibly can be, this is a much more personal tale, without the glitter and glamour, the brilliance or the ideas of the first story. And yet it touches you more deeply, more subtly than the first story. Its horror is all the more real for its understated openness and its horrible sense of loss. My favourite story of the collection was Even The Dead Die, then I read In The Skin and had to change my mind.

OK, so the services of a proof-reader wouldn’t go amiss (although the typos have been spotted and will be fixed for the next print run), and there is no Charing Cross Road Station, but what you get when you buy this book is something much more than you will expect.

Despite its length and cost, it’s a 120 page book for the price of an epic novel at £7.99, that quality I mentioned earlier makes reading this book worth more than any price you can put on it. I was shaken putting this book down, mentally and emotionally shaken. Reading the first story made me feel alive, reading the second made me feel empty. It is that power that I search for as a reader. It is the quality of the production and the contents of this amazing collection which pushes it beyond insubstantial things like money, it’s like the Lord of the Rings, Anansi Boys, The Thief of Always, Weaveworld… reading this book is an epic experience that will touch you in ways that few experiences can.

I recommend Different Skins wholeheartedly and unreservedly, and will be seeking out much more of Gary McMahon’s work.

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