Archive for war

BILLY LYNN’S HALFTIME WALK By Ben Fountain – Reviewed

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2015 by stanleyriiks

On the cover it says this is the Catch 22 of the Iraq War, and it probably is. Ever since that seminal book was written every book on war that uses humour is compared to it. But Catch 22 is a classic for a reason, it’s an amazingly written book that twists and turns and makes a strange kind of sense, it encapsulates the danger, the struggle and the terror of being a soldier.

Does Billy Lynn’s story do the same? To a certain extent, yes, it does.

Billy Lynn and his squad are heroes. On a break from fighting after a much publicised mission, the military trots the soldiers across the country to drum up support. The book tells the story of their final stop, at a Dallas Cowboy’s game. Dealing with the stress of their last mission, recorded for all to see by a journalist, the loss of their comrades, meeting with the dignitaries and millionaires of the Cowboy’s management and fanship, trying to broker a deal with a Hollywood producer who wants to tell their story, coming to terms with heading back into a warzone, and falling in love, this isn’t just a story about war. It feels a little like a coming of age story for young (19 year old) Billy Lynn, and his story is quite incredible, as he joined the army after beating up his sister’s boyfriend who dumped her after a car crash.

Poignant, intelligent, well written, with humour, insight, and subtlety, this is a story of manhood, war, love, family and honour. A remarkable story, and yes, very probably the Catch 22 of the Iraq war. Touching and brilliant.

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BITTER SEEDS By Ian Tregillis – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2015 by stanleyriiks

Such promise: English Warlocks and Nazi Psychics battle it out during World War Two. Such potential. A shame it hardly lives up to it.

The English side of the battle is the real damp squib, it’s much more about the terrible mental and physical struggle of the English team and their warlocks. The best they can manage is to create some bad weather.

The Nazi psychics are also tortured by their leader to imbue them with their mysterious powers, and treated like weapons. But they manage to get fully into the action, what little there is of it. A couple of episodes of action are all that we are party to, the rest of the book is set-up and background.

This feels like the vague first part of a trilogy, and as such Tregillis doesn’t want to blow his load too fast by giving us an epic battle between the warlords and the psychics. Which is exactly what we want.

I’m assuming the second book in the series will lead into an amazing third book, but I’m afraid I won’t be sticking around to find out.

Authors need to realise we want to be massively entertained throughout the series and every page and chapter should have something to keep us gripped.

Tregillis has produced an interesting book, which shows potential, but which ultimately fails. I’m sure the third book in the series will finally live up to the promise, but it’s too little too late.

KING OF THORNS By Mark Lawrence – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2013 by stanleyriiks

Spoiler alert, if you haven’t read the first book in the trilogy (Prince of Thorns) then go and do it now and then come back and read this review. The first book is the series is a glorious, action thriller of a fantasy, brutal, inventive, original and compelling. Read it and come back, the review will still be here!

 

Jorg Ancrath, now King after killing his uncle is about to be attacked. The King of Arrow, a man who is prophesied to become emperor of the hundred kingdoms, is on his way with an army of thousands. Jorg isn’t the type to stay behind locked gates and hope for the best, even when outnumbered twenty to one there is only one thing (ok, may be two things) he can do, get married and attack.

With a similar structure to the first book the present takes place on Jorg’s wedding day as he plans to attack the King of Arrow and his advancing hordes, meanwhile there are flashbacks to four years past where we discover what brought Jorg to this deadly and final moment.

Whilst some of the flashbacks are exciting and integral to the story, others act to slow the fast pace of the present battle and towards the later stages of the book become a little irritating. I just wanted to get on with reading about the exciting fighting.

Lawrence writes with a style that lends itself to action, and this is a very slightly slower book than the first (a rip-roaring thunderball of action!), but still has a passion and imagination that goes well beyond your standard fantasy.

Absolutely amazing fantasy adventure, truly relentless, and at times exasperating, this second book in the trilogy moves the story on and will have you begging for more, exactly like the first book. I can’t wait to see how Jorg’s story ends, and if the past two books are any indication the third book in the trilogy is going to end with a massively exciting bang.

Can’t wait for the third installment, intelligent, brilliant fantasy.

THE COLD COMMANDS By Richard Morgan – Reviewed

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I read the first book in this series around two years ago, and you know what, I can barely remember any of it. I remember the three main characters (after my memory is jogged reading about them again), who are all here, present and correct. I vaguely remember feeling like the book ended on a cliff-hanger and feeling a little bit cheated, but I still enjoyed it enough to put the second book in the series (trilogy?) on my Christmas list for Santa to buy me. So in amongst my stacks of drugs and porn and alcohol (ok, so it was pretty much all books that Santa brought me!), I found this SF/fantasy novel (and it’s got a nice cover which always draws me in) and sat down to read it.

Ringil Eskiath is a true antihero, although we find him rescuing slaves after his cousin was imprisoned by a slave-trader. He’s a tough, no-nonsense S.O.B. who demands your attention, a mean man with a massive alien sword.

Archeth is a half-alien female who works for the new emperor, a paranoid young man intent on ridding his empire of enemies by having them flayed alive by octopi.

Egar the Dragonbane is having an affair with the wife of a war hero, but his adventures into a religious fortress will bring the three old friends back together, whether they like it or not, with magic, death, and betrayal to get in their way.

This book (I think like the first, my memory is not what it once was!) takes a long time to gather speed, there are almost three hundred pages of build-up as the story meanders along, setting everything up for the inevitable climax. When it does comes there’s plenty of action and intrigue, although Ringal is a little too superheroic and never appears in danger of being hurt, let alone losing a fight. He’s a bit too invincible, like Judge Dredd with a sword.

Morgan’s writing is good, he manages to draw you in without you realising, the atmosphere and world are vividly portrayed, but there’s a lingering sense of missing something. Perhaps it’s been too long between instalments, but I felt like I missed the oft-referred to war (did it appear in the first book?).

Despite confusing the hell out of me, the grey lands are strange and mysterious and make everything seem a bit too easy at the end. I couldn’t help but enjoy Egar’s tough steppe barbarian, Archeth’s frustrated diplomat and Ringal’s menacing killer. The characters are really what make this book, and Morgan has done a first rate job with them. I’ll be back for more despite my misgivings, fantasy doesn’t get much more original or compelling than this.

THE SKINNER By Neal Asher – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2011 by stanleyriiks

Three strangers meet on the way to the planet’s surface. That planet, which has little serviceable surface, is Spatterjay, a mostly water-filled world. And the seas of Spatterjay are filled with all manner of creatures all ready and willing to eat you and anything else that invades their watery home: including the strange leeches, whose bite, if not fatal, will change your body chemistry until you are immortal, or near as damnit.

One of the party of three is Sable Keech, several hundreds of years old, and finally returning to Spatterjay to complete his mission: to find the remaining survivors of Jay Hoop’s crew and execute them. They were an ancient gang who sold cored-human slaves to the alien Prador’s during the war. Despite the war now being over a Prador adult and adolescent have arrived on the planet in secret with one of Hoop’s old crew, intent on causing problems.

Another of the three is Janer, part of a hive mind that may have secret plans to colonize the planet.

Throw into this mix semi-immortal pirates; a monster that skins people alive; the various fauna that occupies most of the planet and is intent on eating everything else; an AI overseer that acts as the planet’s police and army; and a War Drone; and you get a massive amount of story, huge back-stories, and a huge amount of information that fortunately doesn’t slow down the plot too much.

It takes a little while to get into the book because of the sheer volume of stuff you need to know, but it’s so full of great ideas that you can’t help but keep reading. The book builds nicely, we have enough action and enough ideas to not only keep you entertained but make you want to discover more. Fortunately Asher’s produced not only more Spatterjay novels, but also Polity novels (based on the more organised part of the universe that only make a brief appearance here). Asher’s universe is massively detailed and cleverly put together, and the novel is the same. What it lacks in pace to begin with is swiftly made up for in the later stages, and you can forgive this because of the amount of detail expounded.

Full of great ideas, with a good solid story and plenty of twists and turns, this first book of Spatterjay is the ideal entry into this virgin territory, and I have high hopes for the other books in the series, which I will most definitely be seeking out.

DEATH’S HEAD By David Gunn – Reviewed

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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.

GALAXY IN FLAMES By Ben Counter – Reviewed

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The final instalment in the first trilogy of the epic tale of the Horus Heresy, sees the unleashing of the betrayal that has been building over the two previous books, in a furious battle.

On the planet of Isstvan III the space marines are sent to bring a planet back under the control of the Imperium, but they discover, too late, that they are being sent into a trap that will leave all of them dead.

Horus, the Warmaster, and his brother primarchs and other followers, act brutally to destroy any hope of rebellion against their plotting to take over the Empire and to kill the Emperor.

Loken, Tavitz, and our other heroes land on Isstvan III prepared for battle, but the traitors unload viruses and fire to blanket the planet and destroy everyone.

A brutal brother against brother battle erupts for their very survival, and the survival of the empire.

Counter managed to give this epic account a personal focus, whilst still imbuing it with an action-packed energy we’ve come to love from the previous tales. The Horus Heresy is the jewel in the crown of the Black Library, and they are pouring the talent into it. The story is massive and epic, and one book can barely give you a sense of what is going on, but this is a cracking instalment, all action and packed with death.

Counter produces a novel of integrity, that takes it beyond the simple action battles of other 40K sagas. Massively entertaining, tension-filled and desperately sad. Watching the empire fall apart is a truly torturing experience.

Can’t wait to find out what happens next.