Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘A Fall Of Moondust’ And Why I Love To Re-Read Books

Are you the kind of person who likes to re-read books? Some people I know consider reading a book a second or third time as being pointless. Once you’ve read it, well – you’ve read it. However, I totally disagree. I compare it to listening to your favourite music over and over. For example, that album which has developed some kind of meaning for you. It evokes an emotion or triggers a memory. It changes you, if only for a brief moment. And you’ll keep on listening to it because it does exactly that.

A well written piece of fiction can take you places by using nothing more than your imagination. It can make you feel happy or sad, basically your emotions are under the authors command.

There are certain books that I will read again and again because of what the author can do. This includes Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘A Fall Of Moondust’ which I re-read recently. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve buried myself in the pages of the story. Most will agree it’s one of Clarke’s best and is now regarded as a classic.

The book was originally published in 1961 and describes the moon before we really new anything about it. To aid the story, certain assumptions were made. Some of which have turned out to be inaccurate – such as the actual depth of moondust on the surface (centimetres, not meters). However we can forgive that sort of thing as Clarke used the science that was understood at the time. His writing is at it’s best when he’s extrapolating in to the future and weaving it in to the story.

I was in my early teens when I first picked up the book. The story caught my imagination, it was all happening on the moon and there were spaceships too! With subsequent re-reads, and with a developing interest in science, I started to understand more about the ideas that pushed the plot along.

With each reading of ‘A Fall Of Moondust’, I go back to my teens. I remember how I felt when I first read it, the gripping story line and how the words filled my imagination. It’s more than a ‘comfort read’ because I still find the story exciting. The book will always be close by, proudly sitting on the shelf with other treasured stories that I will re-read someday soon.

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

Arthur C. Clarke’s 3001 – The Disappointing Final To A Confusing Odyssey

3001 The Final OdysseyI recently reread 3001 The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clark. I first read it many years ago and to be honest I can’t actually remember what I thought of it. This time around, seeing as I write the occasional review, I thought I would be more attentive to the story, style and setting.

First of all, I really ought to discuss where this book fits in. I’m sure you are aware of the film and book, 2001 A Space Odyssey – which you can think of as a joint project by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. We are introduced to the mystery of the Monolith and the epic adventure and eventual transformation of Dave Bowman.

In the sequel, 2010 Odyssey Two, new characters are introduced and a further exploration of the mystery of the monolith. We meet Dave Bowman again, though briefly, and a Russian crew out to save the spaceship Discovery from the first film. We also learn why the computer, Hal 9000, murdered the crew. The story was written by Arthur C. Clark, the eventual film was directed by Peter Hyams. Both of which had the blessing of Stanley Kubrick.

Then comes the next book, 2061 Odyssey Three. The character of Haywood Floyd, who was introduced in the first book and features in the second, takes a trip to Halley’s comet. On the way, and after various mishaps, two people end up on Europa. At this point we discover there is indeed life there and it’s guarded by another monolith. This book does further the story somewhat and reveals more about the mysterious monolith and what happened to Dave Bowman and the ‘consciousness’ of the HAL 9000 computer.

After all of that, we end up with 3001 the Final Odyssey.

In this book, one of the original astronauts, Frank Poole, is found floating in space. Modern science has moved on somewhat and after a thousand years he is revived. He is then introduced to the new world of marvels with the help of Professor Anderson who revived him and Doctor Indra Wallace, later a romantic interest. And really, that’s where the book dwells. For a good three quarters of the story, we are following Frank Poole’s exploration and travels. It’s not until towards the end do find out more about Europa and the monolith. It seems rushed, and for me, ruined the mystery that was established with the first book. We find that Dave Bowman and Hal 9000 have become almost a single entity. We discover that behind the monolith’s are nothing more than just ‘aliens’ with an agenda – to act as Sheppard’s over civilisations and decide which is fit to continue. An old trope maybe but I kinda expected more.

When you’ve read all the books, it does seem like the final one is ‘out of joint’. However, if you are a fan of this series, then there’s something you should be aware of. From Wikipedia

Clarke consistently stated that each of the Odyssey novels takes place in its own separate parallel universe – this is demonstrated by the facts that the monoliths are still in existence at the end of 2010: Odyssey Two and that Floyd is no longer part of the trinity formed at the end of 2061: Odyssey Three. These parallel universes are a part of Clarke’s retroactive continuity.

We can take it then, that the series is not really a continuing story. Not if there are differences as cited above. If each individual story takes place in a ‘parallel universe’, are they related? If not, then they just happen to feature common characters, places and events. This revelation makes me feel really uncomfortable and very confused.

It doesn’t make sense to consider this book as a ‘standalone’ story, as you have to understand where the characters come from and their motivations. Also, to consider it as part of a series doesn’t make sense either. I guess I should just enjoy the story but the rush to the end, the disjointed nature of the series and slow plot line, it really should have been much better and so much more.

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

Mental Health & Creativity, The Hidden & The Celebrated

depression

A couple of things come together recently that have inspired my writing of this small piece. The first is that in the last few weeks the UK Government has been discussing it’s plans for dealing with the important issue mental health.

The second is that I’ve been sorting through my book collection, preparing to sell a few to make some space. I decided to research one of the authors and discovered that he died early in his career – he suffered from depression and took his own life.

Mental health is a complex subject, there are many types of disorders, differing causes and plenty of literature and research on how best to deal with it. What fascinates me is the way that mental health is perceived by society as a thing to be hidden, yet we celebrate the creativity of those who struggle with their internal problems.

There have been many research projects looking in to the possible connection between mental health and creativity. From the entry Creativity and mental illness on Wikipedia

Particularly strong links have been identified between creativity and mood disorders, particularly manic-depressive disorder (a.k.a. bipolar disorder) and depressive disorder (a.k.a. unipolar disorder). In Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, Kay Redfield Jamison summarizes studies of mood-disorder rates in writers, poets and artists. She also explores research that identifies mood disorders in such famous writers and artists as Ernest Hemingway (who shot himself after electroconvulsive treatment), Virginia Woolf (who drowned herself when she felt a depressive episode coming on), composer Robert Schumann (who died in a mental institution), and even the famed visual artist Michelangelo.

Debates over mental health issues and the connection to creative ability are not over, there’s a long way to go as yet. However, it can be seen that there is, in many cases, a correlation. Even if creative ability is not directly tied to mental health, it can interfere with the ability already present.

Of all the differing mental health conditions, we are perhaps more aware of depression, both unipolar and bipolar. Some of the greatest works of art has been created by sufferers of depression. But still, it’s a hidden condition that’s shunned by society, to such an extent that we are not even aware that the works we admire so much have been created by people who suffered so much. Maybe it’s time that we admired the person along with their troubles, their strengths and what they have achieved.

Virginia Woolf

“Woolf had her first bout with depression at the age of 15, battling it throughout her life — even being hospitalized in 1904 to treat the illness. Her creativity was frequently compromised by intermittent mood swings punctuated by sleeplessness, migraines and auditory and visual hallucinations” (source)

Ernest Hemingway

Depression, borderline and narcissistic personality traits, bipolar disorder and, later, psychosis coalesced to create Hemingway’s personal hell. Rather than turning to physicians or therapists for help, Hemingway used alcohol, engaged in risk-taking sportsmanship activities and wrote to cope. The author’s mental and physical health deteriorated so rapidly during the last years of his life — primarily due to alcoholism — that he finally accepted electroshock treatments in 1960. (source)

Walter M. Miller

I mention this author because the only book of his published in his lifetime, A Canticle for Leibowitz, has been very influential on Science Fiction and also a story I thoroughly enjoyed.

Miller was born in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Educated at the University of Tennessee and the University of Texas, he worked as an engineer. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Corps as a radioman and tail gunner, flying more than fifty bombing missions over Italy. He took part in the bombing of the Benedictine Abbey at Monte Cassino, which proved a traumatic experience for him. Joe Haldeman reported that Miller “had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for 30 years before it had a name”…

In Miller’s later years, he became a recluse, avoiding contact with nearly everyone, including family members; he never allowed his literary agent, Don Congdon, to meet him. According to science fiction writer Terry Bisson, Miller struggled with depression, but had managed to nearly complete a 600-page manuscript for the sequel to Canticle before taking his own life with a firearm in January 1996, shortly after his wife’s death. (source)

Tennessee Williams

Playwright Williams, who wrote classics like The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire, suffered depression all his life, battled drug and alcohol addiction, and was briefly institutionalized in 1969. He was also deeply affected by his beloved sister Rose’s struggles with schizophrenia. (source)

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling’s life may sound like a rags-to-riches fairytale — unemployed mother writes bestseller, becomes billionaire — but she’s been frank about the severe depression underlying her experience, even talking about it on Oprah. She also created the famously horrifying Dementors to capture how depression really feels to a sufferer. (source)

There are many more authors who have battled their way through their own personal problems. Depression has either hindered or sparked their artistic abilities. While we celebrate their work, let’s remember that there are people around us now who are in need of our support and understanding.

If you need help or want to know more about mental health issues in the UK then check out these UK charities, SANE and Mind.

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

The Most Prolific British Science Fiction Author You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

There is a British author whose name should be mentioned along with Asimov, Clark, Harrison and Heinlein. He was writing Science Fiction during the 1950s and 1960 for Badger Books. During that time, it is estimated he wrote around 180 books. The total number is unclear as no one’s really quite sure just how many.

He wrote under pseudonyms like…

Neil Balfort, Othello Baron, Noel Bertram, Oben Leterth, Elton T. Neef, Peter O’Flinn, René Rolant, Robin Tate and Deutero Spartacus. Names he used for novels include Erle Barton, Lee Barton, Thornton Bell, Leo Brett, Bron Fane, L.P. Kenton, Phil Nobel, Lionel Roberts, Neil Thanet, Trebor Thorpe, Pel Torro, and Olaf Trent.

His working life has been very varied, including…

  • working as a journalist on the Norfolk Chronicle and then as a van driver and warehouseman at Hamerton’s Stores in Dereham
  • a schoolmaster at Dereham Secondary Modern School from 1958 to 1961 and again from 1963 to 1967, and a Further Education Tutor based at Gamlingay Village College from 1967 to 1969
  • Industrial Training Manager for the Phoenix Timber Group of Companies in Rainham from 1969 to 1972
  • Head of English and then Deputy Headteacher at Hellesdon High School near Norwich from 1972 to 1979, and Headmaster of Glyn Derw High School in Cardiff from 1979 to 1989

The list goes on, so I’ll skip the bit about him being a Dan Grade martial arts instructor and a weight-training instructor.

Did I mention he is also a priest? He was ordained as a non-stipendiary Anglican priest in the Church in Wales in 1987 and is also a minister of the Universal Life Church. Oh, and a Freemason too!

Any guesses to who I am talking about? Perhaps if I mention that he was the host of Fortean TV in 1997, does that help?

I am of course, talking about…

The Reverend Robert Lionel Fanthorpe BA, FCollP, FRSA, FCMI, Cert.Ed

Lionel Fanthorpe
Image from Wikipedia

Fanthorpe was very prolific, in three years he wrote at least 89 books. He had to write to order for Badger books, he was sent the book’s cover and he had to fit the story to it. He was also limited to around 45,000 words per book. Fanthorpe would dictate to a bank of tape recorders and his and family would transcribe them. This would normally lead to very rushed endings as he wouldn’t be aware of just how many words he had left!

I first came across him as Pel Torro, Galaxy 666 and Force 97/X. They read like books of their time – the beginnings of space travel and atomic energy. Mostly, they are great romps and adventures with aliens, monsters and spaceships. As a kid, they were very entertaining!

In my own humble opinion, he really does deserve more recognition. Not because his output was outstanding or game-changing, but because he made a genuine contribution to Science Fiction. His stories, as many as there were, entertained a generation. They Introduced futuristic ideas in commonplace settings. Just how many went on to become scientists or engineers because of Fanthorpe’s work?

Reverend Robert Lionel Fanthorpe is still writing, on subjects like religion and supernatural mysteries. He is a confirmed biker and at 78 years old, I don’t seem him stopping any time soon!

I shall guard my collection of his work, they are my slice of British Science Fiction history. Not only that, after all this time they are still a fun read!

For more information…

 

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

Black History Month: A Resource Guide To Black Science Fiction & Fantasy

This month is Black History Month. A very important celebration that looks back at the contributions made by black people all over the world. A chance to remember their struggles for acceptance and the need be treated equally, to learn of their stories and to understand how their lives were affected by indifference and hatred.

But I am a white man, living in a white culture with little experience of the struggles they have experienced over the decades. To my mind, that disqualifies me from spouting any further on that side of things. Though I do have an opinion and that is to say, it’s an unjust World we live in and change is well overdue.

I could talk about black Sci-Fi authors of the past, people like Octavia E. Butler, Nalo Hopkinson and Charles W. Chesnutt. There are many black authors who have contributed to the fine body of literature that is Science Fiction.

Instead, I’m going to give you a list of resources where you can find out more about past, current and future black authors. You will learn an awful lot more by discovering for yourself the contributions made than by revealing my own inadequate knowledge.

For Black History Information

Posts About Black Science Fiction Authors

Websites For Black Science Fiction

Black Science Fiction Authors

Black Science Fiction and the Media

Until I started doing the research for the links above, I had no idea what colour skin Samuel R. Delany had. In fact, that’s true for the majority of the authors that I read, I have no idea what colour they are. Besides it doesn’t matter to me and it shouldn’t matter to you. All that is important is that you read, buy books and support new and current authors. Go to it!

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

Book to Film (Part 3): Even More Sci-fi Titles That Made It to the Big Screen

It’s time for another look at Sci Fi stories that have made it to the big screen. For this edition of Book To Film,  a couple of classics that everyone should be aware of!  Click for my previous posts, part one  and part two

2,000 leagues under the sea

20000 leagues under the seaFuturistic submarines, monsters and amazing adventures filled the original story. It has become a recommended read for anyone getting in to the genre. It was turned in to a film in 1956 and was personally produced by Walt Disney and directed by Richard Fleischer. The big stars featured in the film include Kirk Douglas, James Mason and Paul Lukas.

It’s a fun classic despite it’s age. Do the special effects stand up after all this time? With a great story and such a fine cast, does it really matter?

Battlefield Earth

Battlefield earthIf you are already in to Sci Fi films in a big way or perhaps appreciate the older and slightly off kilter authors, then you may have come across ‘Battlefield Earth’. It is considered be one of the most massive flops of all time. The book it’s based on (book and film share the same name) was written by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. Therefore, knowing that John Travolta was the lead actor and major force behind the film should be no surprise!

The film was criticised for just about everything, the acting, the dialog, the way it was filmed and so on! It has now become a bit of a cult, in a ‘so bad that it’s really good’ kind of way.

Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy

Hitchhikers_guide_to_the_galaxyDon’t panic! Those are the reassuring words that are printed on the front cover the Hitch Hikers Guide. A guide carried by Ford Prefect and given to Arthur Dent. The original set of books about the guide and the adventures of Ford and Arthur was written by the late Douglas Adams. It was first turned into a radio series which became a cult hit.

Later the BBC turned it in to a TV series. In my personal view, the best version for the screen so far. Far better than the 2005 version featuring Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell and the late Alan Rickman. For me, the voice of the guide will always be Peter Jones, sorry Steven Fry!

The story has proved so popular it has made it on to vinyl LP’s, comic books and even stage plays. It is one of those classics that can be enjoyed over and over.

Logan’s Run

Logans_run_movieThe original idea for Logan’s Run came from the book of the same name  by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. A dystopian future where population growth is controlled and the city is where you were born, lived and died. Going outside was strictly forbidden.

The stars of the 1976 film include Michael York, Jenny Agutter and Richard Jordon. We must not forget Peter Ustinov and Farrah Fawcett also starred – quite a cast!

It’s a fine film and acted well but sadly someone has decided a remake is required. I can’t understand why anyone feels it needs one!

Ender’s Game

Ender's_GameI really enjoyed the original book by Orson Scott Card, and also its sequel, Speaker For The Dead. It was a good story that I have re-read a few times now.

When the 2013 film version came out, I was excited and looked forward to seeing how it would look on the big screen. Sadly I was disappointed. Like many others, I felt the plot was lacking far too many aspects of the original story. I’ve no problem with the acting and special effects, just let down by the adaptation.

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

Book To Film: A Brief Look At Philip K. Dick

Philip K. DickIn the last week or so, the UK broadcaster Channel 4 has announced a new TV series based on the works of Philip K. Dick…

Channel 4 and Sony Pictures Television have today announced they are partnering on a hugely ambitious original drama series based on the short stories written by award-winning Sci-Fi novelist Philip K. Dick.

The ten-part anthology series, Electric Dreams: The World of Philip K. Dick, will be written and executive produced by Emmy-nominated Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Outlander) and Michael Dinner (Justified, Masters of Sex), with Oscar nominated Bryan Cranston (Trumbo, Breaking Bad) both executive producing and appearing in the series.

Each episode will be a sharp, thrilling standalone drama adapted and contemporised for global audiences by a creative team of British and American writers. The series will both illustrate Philip K. Dick’s prophetic vision and celebrate the enduring appeal of the prized Sci-Fi novelist’s work.

Bryan Cranston has starred in many big films, such as Godzilla, but he is better know for his leading role in ‘Breaking Bad’.

If you are a big fan of Battlestar Galactica then you should know that Ronald D. More was the main force behind it.  He was also a major contributor to various Star Trek TV series and films.

Seems like the new TV show has some great credentials!

It’s not the first time that Philip K. Dick’s work has been developed in to films. Most of the time, it’s his short stories have been used as a basis for a script.

Let’s take a look at some of his work that has made it to the big screen…

The Man In The High Castle

This 1962 book was made in to a successful TV series in 2015.  It was developed for Amazon Prime and another series is due this year.

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale

This short story from 1966 was developed for film in 1990 and was released as ‘Total Recall’. It featured Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role and was in my opinion a fairly fun film. However, another version was made in 2012 which was much more serious and more liberal with the original story.

The Minority Report

After Blade Runner, this is possibly the biggest film based on a Philip K. Dick’s story. The original book was published in 1956 and made in to a film in 2006 starring Tom Cruise and Colin Farrell.

Blade Runner

You really can’t talk about Philip K. Dick and not mention Blade Runner. It has become a cult film, inspired and influenced Sci Fi films ever since the film was released in 1982. It’s based on the book, ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep’ that was first published in 1968.

A Scanner Darkly

This is the most quirky of all the adaptations of Philip K. Dicks works. Based on the 1977 book, the film was used the technique of interpolated rotoscoping. You can read more about it here. Basically, animators draw over each frame to create an animated look. This in my opinion is the closest anyone has got to the story and the ‘look and feel’ that was originally intended by the author

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

My Three Brilliant Ideas For The Much Improved Cookery Book

interactive-recipe-bookIn my capacity as a food blogger, well I do comment on and share recipes, I am fortunate that I get to review the odd cookery book now and then. I get to stare at brilliantly photographed recipes by brilliantly talented chefs. Books by the likes of Tom Kerridge and Gennaro Contaldo grace my shelves and I’m very proud to have them. Great sources of inspiration and significant expenditure when it comes to buying the more expensive ingredients.

However, I am starting to see a trend in these gorgeous and skill extending books of great desire. The extended and personal intro, recipes that have significant meaning in the chefs life and photographs of finished dishes that you envy so much but which you find rather difficult to recreate.

It’s a good format and works well. Let’s not forget that they’re always full of wonderful dishes, so full that I’m starting to think that the next book will be delivered by forklift! Yes, they are getting heavier and with more and more pages devoted to the chef’s creativity.

During my perusal of the latest cookbook to arrive, I suddenly had a thought. There is something missing. These books that document the fine works of these culinary stars could be better, more entertaining and more interactive!

So here are my ideas for the ultimate cookery book.

Make it more interesting with pop ups!

As you open the page, it folds out and things appear! Plates of food rise from the page, tabs to pull to reveal what’s under the wonderfully cooked meat, a magical experience unfolds before your very eyes as you turn the pages of the first ever recipe-pop-up cookery book!

Don’t just imagine the the food in front of you, smell it!

As you read down the list of ingredients, there is a small panel that has a simple label, ‘scratch here’. You extended a finger and scratch gently. Before you very nose, the smell of that recipe wafts in the air in front of you. Yes dear reader, I would love a “scratch ‘n’ sniff” recipe book!

Be entranced by the sounds of cooking

You must of seen those entertaining children’s books that make noises or play tunes. The choice of sound depends on what is touched, either with a stylus or with a finger. Kids love them, especially the ones made by Disney. Now imagine that the recipe you are reading about has a spot that activates a sound, the sound of that very recipe being cooked! Bubbling potatoes, the sizzling of steak and quite possibly a record of the chef swearing as he cuts his finger for the third time!

If this has never been thought of before, an interactive scratch ‘n’ sniff pop up recipe book with audio clips, then I claim copyright over it. Please contact me with a photograph of that big huge cheque that you have waiting for me and I’ll licence the idea to you.

Just imagine how much more entertaining a recipe book could be. A fish dish with accompanying sounds of the sea and smell of the beach. Including seaweed! Or perhaps a mooing of a cow that goes with that steak recipe. We could miss the scratch ‘n’ sniff panel for that one though.

The possibilities are endless and would be fun for all ages. Imagine how impressed your friends would be, seeing on your shelf a “pop up scratch ‘n’ sniff audio clip” cook book by Nigella Lawson or perhaps James Martin!

Anyway, those are just my three ideas. Now dear reader, it’s your turn. How would you improve the books you love to read?

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

Dark Intelligence By Neal Asher

dark-intelligenceScience fiction is a known and well appreciated genre of fictional literature. However, did you know it has it’s own sub-genre’s? There’s quite a few including Apocalyptic, Cyberpunk and Military. My own favourite sub-genre is ‘hard science fiction’. Normally, it’s a story that is driven more by ideas than characterization. Quite often, current and cutting edge science is used and extrapolated to form a backdrop, plot points and motivations. The more accurate the science, the better the story.

The reason I tell you this is to give you some idea where ‘Dark Intelligence’ sits in the order of things. It’s a very recent book by Neal Asher (2015) and is based in his imagined universe of the Polity. The Polity is the name of the governing authority in the galaxy, made up mostly of Artificial Intelligences.

It certainly fits the sub-genre of ‘hard science fiction’. It features plenty of AI’s, spaceships and weapons that can do the most amazing amounts of damage to people, places and planets.

The hero of the story is Thorvald Spear, a soldier who died in a war that finish a century before the books setting. He is resurrected, his mind restored from a ruby memplant – a special memory chip that records minds – which is transferred to his new body.

He sets out on a quest to find Penny Royal, the name of the artificial intelligence that was responsible for his own and many other deaths.
During his journey he meets crime-lord Isobel Satomi. He needs her help to find the rogue AI but she is undergoing a transformation. A process that was started by the same AI, Penny Royal. They both head out on a journey to seek vengeance but both end up doubting who they really are and what they really want.

It already sounds like an interesting plot but mix in the alien Prador who have little regard for any life and the AI based Polity which governs the galaxy spanning society – you end up with a story that has depth, good pace and a book you don’t want to put down.

I found the book exciting, full of great ideas and a plot that was stitched together really well. Characters was rounded where necessary and things moved ahead at a good pace. Everything good, until the end…

The story is based in the universe of the Polity. There are books that come before this that help build that universe. A shared history and backstory that the end of ‘Dark Intelligence’ refers to. It’s a little confusing reading about what the Gabbleducks are up to and not really knowing what they are for sure!

I am pleased to say that I have re-discovered Neal Asher and will be rereading ‘The Line of Polity’, a book I bought some time ago. Now that I have finished  ‘Dark Intelligence’ and really enjoyed it, it’s probably not a surprise that I have some of his other books in my Amazon shopping basket!

‘Dark Intelligence’ is available on Amazon now and the sequel
is due in May. Do keep an eye out!

I give this book 4 bites, would have been 5 except I got a little lost with the ending.

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

Exploring Science Fiction: There’s More To It Than just Space Opera’s!

genres of SciFi
Source: Wikipedia
Modern cinema gives us a fairly limited view of science fiction. For example, Star Wars is a ‘space opera’ and the Maze Runner is either a ‘Young Adult’ SF tale or a vision of a dystopian future – or both, depending on your point of view. However, I think that SciFi as a sub genre of literature is much wider than you have been led to believe. There’s much more to it!

During my research, I actually came across at least 50 different Science Fiction classifications. While many are self contained and go no further, there are many that have multiple sub genres of their own. Who actually decides where a story fits is unknown, I guess the authors have a majority say in the matter and the publishers would have their own views. However they are decided, lets take a look at some of the sub genres and explore them a little.

Space Opera

There are many examples of Space Opera, the aforementioned Star Wars is one, as is the Hidden Empire series by Kevin J Anderson. They span planets, governments and a feature a cast of many – which all makes for an exciting read. Perhaps one of the most famous examples and is the Lensmen series by Edward Elmer Smith Ph.D, an author better known as E.E. “Doc” Smith. The initial set of books, 6 in total, have been extended by author William B. Ellern. There’s been Manga comic books that loosely feature the original stories and there was talk of a possible film version.

Military Science Fiction

As you may expect, military SciFi takes a look at future and alternative versions of war. A good example would be Robert A. Heinlein’s ‘Starship Troopers‘ but one of the best contributors to this genre is Joe Haldeman and his ‘The Forever War‘ series.

Dystopian Futures

This genre has been explored a lot recently in Young Adult fiction. You may of seen the hit movies ‘Maze Runner‘ and ‘The Hunger Games‘ but both are based on published books. For the older reader, the original ‘Planet Of The Apes‘ books by Pierre Boulle may be a more interesting read!

Alien Invasion

This genre is filled with so many great examples! If you not heard or read any of the following books then you really need to read more – Childhood’s End, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and The War of the Worlds. I would also consider ‘Enders Game’ and ‘Starship Troopers‘ to be part of this genre. Not uncommon for overlaps…

Alternative History

As you may of guessed, alternative history explores the idea, what would happen if something in the past did or did not happen. The best example of this genre is Philip K. Dicks ‘Man In The High Castle‘ – the Germans beat the Americans in World War 2. A close second is ‘The Years Of Rice And Salt‘ by Kim Stanley Robinson – what the world would have been like if the Black Death killed 99% of Europe’s population instead of a third.

Cyberpunk

This is going to be a little difficult to explain and explore because this is one of those genre’s that goes deep. It has many sub genre’s of it’s own, each exploring the same idea but in a different way. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia that best explains it…

“Classic cyberpunk characters were marginalized, alienated loners who lived on the edge of society in generally dystopic futures where daily life was impacted by rapid technological change, an ubiquitous datasphere of computerized information, and invasive modification of the human body”

Cyberpunk itself is possibly best represented by author William Gibson. While not the originator of the genre, certainly someone who has explored it very well with his stories – ‘Neuromancer‘, ‘Count Zero‘ and ‘Mona Lisa Over Drive‘ to name a few.

As I said, Cyberpunk goes deeper with; Steampunk, Decopunk, Dieselpunk, Biopunk, Post Cyberpunk and more. For a full exploration of them all, take a look at this Wikipedia article.

Feghoot

Yes, SciFi does have whimsical side and this is best seen in Feghoot. They started as stories collected together under the title of, ‘Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot’. They are short stories, no more that a few paragraphs that ends with a pun. To quote Wikipedia,

“The usual formulae the stories followed were for the title character to solve a problem bedeviling some manner of being or extricate himself from a dangerous situation. The events could take place all over the galaxy and in various historical or future periods on Earth and elsewhere. In his adventures, Feghoot worked for the Society for the Aesthetic Re-Arrangement of History and traveled via a device that had no name but was typographically represented as the “)(“. The pieces were usually vignettes only a few paragraphs long, and always ended with a deliberately terrible pun that was often based on a well-known title or catch-phrase.”

The genre’s representing culture and more

One of the things I love about SciFi is the ability to explore thoughts and ideas by authors with differing backgrounds and culture. There are commonalities, stories that look straight in to the future or tales that are allegories of contemporary culture – but the authors background, culture or sexuality can colour or twist how the story is told. Some of these genre’s include; Black science fiction, Christian science fiction and Feminist science fiction.

Science Fiction at it’s best reveals where we are now, the joy and heartache of the human condition and our many and varied futures.   It’s time you expanded your horizons and explore everything it as to offer!

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

The Forgotten Women Of Science Fiction

The early days of Science Fiction was dominated by men. If I was to ask you to name a writer, I would be fairly confident you would say Jules Verne or H. G. Wells. Perhaps even Clarke, Asimov or Heinlein. If I was to ask you to name a female Science Fiction writer, you most likely reply Mary Shelly. Famous UK author Brian Aldiss claims that her work, Frankenstein, represents “the first seminal work to which the label SF can be logically attached”.

The first who enter and explore are always the best well know. So it’s not a surprise that Wells, Verne and Shelly are common names. As Science Fiction entered it’s Golden Age (generally agreed to be between 1938 to 1946), names that we know today entered the field. Such luminaries as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark and Philip K. Dick. This era was dominated by men but women writers were present, only they were often hiding behind pen names or sadly have been forgotten.

Their presence and contributions were never really celebrated as well as their male counter parts. It’s not until we get to the New Wave period where they start to get recognition. Women like Leigh Douglass Brackett (December 7, 1915 – March 18, 1978).

leigh_brackettLeigh was an American writer who wrote romances that spanned the universe. Her major contribution, other than her own body of work, was her script for George Lucas’s second instalment of Star Wars. According to her Wikipedia entry

The exact role which Brackett played in writing the script for Empire is the subject of some dispute. What is agreed on by all is that George Lucas asked Brackett to write the screenplay based on his story outline. It is also known that Brackett wrote a finished first draft which was delivered to Lucas shortly before Brackett’s death from cancer on March 18, 1978. Two drafts of a new screenplay were written by Lucas and, following the delivery of the screenplay for Raiders of the Lost Ark, turned over to Lawrence Kasdan for a new approach. Both Brackett and Kasdan (though not Lucas) were given credit for the final script.

While she does get a credit for her work, I’m sure no one today, outside of Star Wars fandom, would know of her.

James Tiptree, Jr/Alice Bradley Sheldon - source: Wikipedia - used under 'fair use'
James Tiptree, Jr/Alice Bradley Sheldon – source: Wikipedia – used under ‘fair use’

Then there’s Alice Bradley Sheldon (August 24, 1915 – May 19, 1987). Most of Alice’s work was published under the name of James Tiptree Jr, it was so she could get her works published in a male dominated world. Another name she used, from 1974 to 1977 was Raccoona Sheldon. In fact, it was not publicly known until 1977 that James Tiptree, Jr. was female.Quite a lot of her books explore the feminist side, using both humans and aliens alike to explore her ideas. She is so highly regarded that there is an award in her name – the James Tiptree, Jr. Award is given in her honour each year for a work of science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.

Though New Wave writing did spawn female writers who went on to become famous, like  Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006), there were some who started in the Golden Age, like James Tiptree.

Catherine_Lucille_MooreC. L. Moore (Catherine Lucille1911-1987) is a US writer whose work is still admired and read today. She had found fame with her own published stories before her marriage (1940) to another Sci Fi writer Henry Kutner (1915-1958). In fact, they had been collaborating since 1937. She stopped writing Sci Fi after her husbands death, she continue for a while writing for TV – Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip. Her Sci Fi work was know for it’s lyrical fluency and the power to evoke a Sense of Wonder.

320full-andre-nortonAnother women started out with an ambiguous name is Andre Norton (1912-2005). She came to fame with Sci Fi stories aimed at Children. The work that really marked her entrance in to the genre was her 1947 novel – The People of the Crater. Over her publishing career, her work matured and became darker. She was very well respected and won many awards and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1997.

These days, Science Fiction is loved and enjoyed by men and women alike. Only recently has it lost much of it’s ‘geeky’ image and the idea that only males enjoy it. The thing we have to remember is that women were there at the beginning, during the Golden Age and through the New Wave period. We must not forget they made a huge contribution to what we now enjoy.

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

The Last Bastard Standing By Sienna Cassedy

imageI have sat here for the last 10 minutes wondering how to start this review. I don’t want to this to be a negative report but then I have only read half the book. Why? Mainly because I was never formally introduced to the plot. However, I can’t make this a positive review as the first portion of the book is mostly taken up with character building. Sadly the main character, who comes across as a semi alcoholic writer, takes up far to much time.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things to like. The main character is a rough and boozy female with pretensions of being a great writer. I kind of liked the way she was being built up. Though, I noticed there were no descriptions of her appearance. We actually had a better idea of what she liked to drink than what she looked like.

The first third of the book was taken up with her and a few subsidiary characters. By the time I got to the half way mark, the plot finally made an appearance. Sadly, we missed each other as I decided to stop reading at that point. A little too late for my tastes.

So you can see the problem I am having. A book with a great start, which laboured too hard over establishing the main character and a plot that doesn’t know when to make itself known. How should I start this review then? Maybe like this…

The Last Bastard Standing mainly concerns a female writer with dreams of making it big. She is inconsiderate to those around her, prefers to drink as often as possible and comes across as being ‘not nice to know’. The story telling by the author is different to what you might be used and will suit the more patient reader. Not exactly experimental but different enough to keep it interesting. The author, Sienna Cassedy, needs to pay more attention to structure, the kind of detail that keeps the reader hooked and entertained. Comes with practice and experience.

On the whole, good effort but unfortunately it lost me half way through.

2 bites out of 5

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

Book To Film (part 2): 5 More Sci-Fi Titles That Made It To The Big Screen

I previously discussed various books that had made it from print to the big screen. Books by authors such as Arthur C. Clarke, Harry Harrison and Philip K. Dick. Since then, other books have been used as inspiration for films, and in one case a TV series.

Planet of the Apes and their sequels

Planet-of-the-Apes-posterThe original books were written by Frenchman Pierre Boulle. In 1968, the first book , “Planet of the Apes”, was filmed starring Charlton Heston. It was a major success and promoted more films and a short lived TV series.

You may be interested to note that the film “Bridge Over The River Kwai” was based on a book by Boulle.

I enjoyed the films, good story, good characters and well filmed. How well do the latest reboots fair? Pretty good! Even though there’s heavy use of CGI, the stories are good and sort of close to the originals.

I, Robot

i_robot_posterMany stories were taken as inspiration for the film, all from the the book of short stories with the same name. Isaac Asimov is very well know for his robot stories, perhaps better known for them than his foundation series.

The film stars Will Smith and contains quite a bit of action. However, it doesn’t loose it’s theme of ‘what makes us human’. This I feel is a good thing as it not something that shines through strongly in Asimov’s tales.

On the whole, a good film that uses Asimov’s stories as a basis for the plot.

Man In The High Castle

man-inthe-high-castlePhilip K. Dick’s novel has been the inspiration for a TV series now being broadcast in the USA. You can watch it on Amazon Prime. I’ve not got round to reading the book, though it’s on my reading to-do list.

I haven’t seen the first few episodes as they appear to be US only at this point but by all accounts it’s highly recommended.

The Martian

the-martian-movie-posterThis is another book on my reading to-do list! The 2011 book by Andy Weir has made it the big screen. The film was directed by Ridley Scott and stars Matt Damon. One of the things that made the book popular and reason the film garnered critical acclaim, is the accuracy of the science seen and mentioned.

Therefore, both a recommend read and watch!

Colossus: The Forbin Project

Colossus_the_forbin_project_movie_posterThe book was written by English author Dennis Feltham Jones (D.F. Jones) in 1966. It’s a story, based in the time of the coldwar, where two super computers decide that man should no longer be in charge.

I have watched the 1970 adaptation a few times now and despite it’s age and how technology has moved on – it’s still worth watching. I suppose you could say the film is a forewarning of how intelligent computers and surveillance technology could eventually go. Though I don’t really think the author or director Joseph Sargent really had that in mind at the time!

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

Old Mars – An Anthology. Edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

old-mars-titan-booksMars has always captivated our imaginations. The thought that the red planet might harbour life, good or bad,  has fuelled the speculative thoughts of writers, artists and story tellers. When Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli thought he had discovered channel like markings on the surface of Mars in 1877, it kept the mythology alive and the story telling going for nearly a century.

We are familiar with the most famous stories, for instance H.G. Wells War Of The Worlds. However, there were many other writers in the early years of the 20th century who speculated what life might have been like on the red planet. Books such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ influential A Princess of Mars (1912), C. S. Lewis Out of the Silent Planet (1938) and even Robert A. Heinlein’s Red Planet (1949).

As we discover more and more about the red planet, what we read and watch becomes more realistic and truthful. Along the way we lost the Martians, their cities and their culture. Gone are the stories of Princesses and explorers. The latest book-to-film release is Andy Weir’s The Martian (book 2011, film 2015). A realistic portrayal of surviving alone on Mars – with no enigmatic Martians providing help.

If you miss the old stories from that classic period of Science Fiction then please do not be disheartened. If you loved the tales from the likes of Ray Bradbury then help is at hand.

Old Mars from Titan Books contains modern stories by modern authors. However, the Martians live. They were there. They can be seen, there are buildings and remains of their culture. A whole lot more to be discovered and explored. It’s a great big anthology for anyone still waiting for the likes of Burroughs, Bradbury and Heinlein to sit comfortably in front of their typewriters again and to continue their craft where they left off.

There are many great stories in this collection but what makes it great are the editors, George R.R. Martin (Game Of Thrones and so much more) and Gardner Dozois (highly respected editor and author). A great combination and certainly no two people better to make the selections for this anthology.

The introduction by Martin really does capture how many feel about Mars. I found myself longing for those old stories as much as he did. I was a lot more interested in tales of outer space by the age of 10 than anything else – much to my teachers dismay.

The stories themselves capture the spirit of the early years of Sci Fi. I really enjoyed Martian Blood by Allen M. Steele and in particular The Ugly Duckling by Matthew Hughes. They all somehow bring something new while maintaining that early fascination of an ancient alien culture living next door. One story in particular that is exciting and which really keeps to the way the old stories were inspired then you must read The Wreck Of The Mars Adventure by David D. Levine.

I’ve not quite finished reading it yet but I know that I am going to enjoy the rest. There are 15 stories in total contained inside 548 pages. Getting to that last page will be a pleasure and time well spent.

5 bites!

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

Fracture, Follow Up To Ryan Mark’s Tremor Due In October

Fracture - Ryan MarkA while back I reviewed Tremor by Ryan Mark, a young adult book I really liked. For those eagerly awaiting for the follow up will be pleased to know that a date has been set for it’s release.

Due on October 1st, Fracture continues the story of William and his friends…

The Earth is starting to recover from the destruction left behind by the tremors and Terrafall. William’s life is settling and he has finally found a place where he feels he belongs. With the opportunity to flourish, the Haven Development has been able to secure the future of its lands and people, bringing forth a period of peace and stability.

Yet something sinister quakes beneath the surface, hiding in the shadows, unknown to William and the Haven Development. Not a tremor, but a new enemy who threatens to tear apart everything William and his friends have fought so hard to protect. The peace is about to fracture…

If the first book is anything to go by, the second part of The Tremor Cycle should be worth getting hold of.

The book is listed on Amazon UK and is currently available for pre-order.

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

Dane Curse By Matt Abraham

Click the pic to get your copy from Amazon – it’s only £1.99!

Let’s get the easy bit over and done with. I loved the book, it was quirky, fun and fairly original. If you were to ask me for a book suggestion, I would recommend Dane Curse highly. I would of read it almost in one go if it wasn’t for my tablet acting up. My copy came in PDF format (hence the tablet) and contained the story within 140 pages. Not entirely sure how that compares to a paper book.

But I guess you want to know about the book, damn that’s the hard part…

The thing is the book is a bit of a eclectic mix, it has super hero’s – good ones and bad ones, it has the mob and it comes across with a slight ‘film noir’ feel to it too. So I can’t really pigeon hole it to any one category. The nearest thing I could compare it to is a very wordy comic with no pictures. The mix of genres in no way spoil anything. I think it broadens the appeal to some extent. Though not to children, it does have swearing and adult themes.

The story is based in a world where those with super powers are either good or bad – white capes or black capes. The hero of the story is Dane Curse who used to be a black cape. He packed that in to solve crimes instead, an attempt to do something better with his life. As crimes against the bad guys and black capes often go unsolved, Dane decided to become a private detective and use his connections to get to the bottom of things and solve those cases.

The plot revolves around who killed the most famous white cape of them all, Pinnacle. However, it’s not Team Supreme (as the leading group of white capes are called) that call Dane in to investigate. For reasons that are eventually revealed, it’s Lynchpin the leader of the Syndicate that hires him – not that he is given much choice!

Also trying to investigate the case are two other bad guys with super powers, the local cops and the Special Powers Extraction Commission which is better know as SPEC.

The story of Dane Curse really would make a great TV series or film. The pace is fast when it needs to be, slows to build tension and the story itself is solid. The resolution to the plot is well worked out and includes a good twist. There are plenty of bad guys with super powers, amazing weaponry and intrigue.

As I said at the beginning, I would happily recommend this book. Therefore I give it a solid 4 Bites.

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

Book To Film: 5 Sci-Fi Titles That Made It To The Big Screen

When Sci-fi books are adapted to the big screen, you get good films and bad films. Are they better when they follow the original story or is it acceptable that they are ‘based on’ or ‘inspired by’ and becomes something slightly different?

At the end of the day, only you can decide if the director has succeeded or not.

2001: a space odyssey

2001 A space odysseyThough the book and the script were written at the same time, there are minor differences such as Saturn was the destination and not Jupiter. Though the book was published after the films release, I think it still qualifies for this list. Arthur C. Clark wrote the book but inspiration was derived from a few of his stories, Namely, “The Sentinel”, “Breaking Strain”, “Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Orbiting…”, “Who’s There?”, “Into the Comet”, and “Before Eden”. Important elements were also taken from “Encounter at Dawn” and (to a somewhat lesser extent) “Rescue Party”.

In 1976, Marvel Comics produced a comic version of the film, the famous Jack Kirby wrote and pencilled it.

When Kubrick decided to make “the proverbial ‘really good’ science-fiction movie”, little did he know if would become one of the most the iconic films ever.

2010: odyssey two

2010 odyssey twoThe story that started in 2001 continues and this time, Peter Hyams takes the reigns as director. A screen play was written based on Arthur C. Clarks novel of 1982 and the film was released at the end of 1984. What may seem strange, Marvel Comics produced a comic version of the film, and not of the book.

This time round, Kubrick had nothing to do with the film but Peter Hyams sought the permission of the original director and the author. Obviously they have him their blessings.

The film was received well but many thought it lacked the style, poetry and the mystery of the original film. A chunk of the book missing from the script, which I’m sure didn’t help.

Soylent Green

makeroom! makeroom!Harry Harrison’s tale from 1966, originally called ‘Make Room! Make Room!’, was brought to the big screen in 1973. Directed by Richard Fleischer, it starred big names like Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young and Edward G. Robinson.

Harrison was not that pleased with the film, he is quoted as saying, “Am I pleased with the film? I would say fifty percent”. Indeed, something was lost in the translation from book to film.

Total Recall

total-recallSo far their have been at least two version of Philips K. Dicks short story, ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’.

The first version, called ‘Total Recall’, was directed by Paul Verhoeven and was released in 1990, it starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, and Sharon Stone. It was warmly received and did very well at the box office. However, looking back it, it really hasn’t aged that well.

The second version was released in 2012 and directed by Len Wisemen. It starred Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, John Cho, and Bill Nighy. Imaginatively, it was also called ‘Total Recal’.

The film really didn’t do well at the box office. Many thought it lacked substance though a few did think it was exciting and carried many aspects of the original story.

The problem with both films is that the scripts were ‘loosely’ based on PKD’s short from 1966. To turn a short story in to a film that lasts some where around one and half to two hours, there’s going to be padding and changes.

War of The Worlds

war-of-the-worldsThis book is considered a classic piece of science fiction. It was written by English author H. G. Wells between 1895 and 1897. It first appeared in book form in 1898. The story is told is from the point of view of unnamed man in Surrey and that of his younger brother in London, as Earth is invaded by Martians.

Two films have been made, the first is probably the best one and most watchable. The second, in my own personal view, is rather disappointing.

The first film was released in 1953, produced by George Pal and directed by Byron Haskin. For the time, the effects seem pretty good. Plenty of girls screaming and men running around with guns. It’s a film I can re-watch any time

The second, directed by Steven Spielberg was released in 2005. It starred Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning and Tim Robbins. The effects are good and the main points of the story are there. For me, it’s lacking something, the film just seems too low key…

It’s a shame that neither film takes place in the original setting of suburban England. The Tom Cruise version seems to wander in it’s re-telling of the story. George Pal seems more keen on action and adventure but has far too many women screaming at everything.

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

Tremor By Ryan Mark

tremor-mark-ryanTremor by Ryan Mark is a fiction book aimed at young teens.  The story is set in a dystopian future where a war has been fought over fossil fuels. As with the rest of the world, England is without Government and everything is falling apart, literally. Since the end of the war, every so often the ground shakes, due to the left over effects of the bombing. Buildings crumble and the earth splits open.

The only organisation left is Terrafall. Created to help the remnants of the population, it has put itself in charge of law and order and  rationing. However, they have become much more ambitious and it looks as though they want total control.

The young hero of the story, William, experiences fear, loss and danger in his quest to find out what happened to his parents. His travels, accompanied by his best friend Althea and her brother Orli, include bus rides through desolated landscapes, bandit infested forests and crumbling towns and villages. The group eventually finds out who is really behind the abductions and the truth leads them in to a great battle.

Want to find out more? Good, because this book is only 273 pages long and you’ll end up reading it in almost one go. Mostly because you care about the characters. That, and the fact that the story moves on at a fair pace  – you don’t want to put the book down!

What I really like about this book is that it met my expectations. It’s aimed at young adults and hits the mark dead on. The hero is a young teen, his friends are teens and the adults are there in a supportive role. We experience his emotions, fears and memories as the story develops. His character develops as he meets each and every challenge.

As with most young adult books, the plot is singular. The aim is to go from point A to point B.  For a ‘young adult’ reader, what is important is what happens to the hero between those points. How he deals with each difficulty, what he experiences and what he has to overcome. Normally that would involve friends and family, as is the case with this book.

A common trait amongst young adult books is that, once the initial challenge or mystery has been dealt with we find out that there is something bigger yet to come.  They have explored a small part of something that is larger than they could imagine. We’ve seen this in the Hunger Games and the Maze Runner.

Ryan Mark has followed suit and in my opinion, has done it very well. Of course I’m not going to tell you more about that. Best you go find out yourself!

Ryan has been writing since 16 and at 26, he has a very bright future ahead of him. He’s good with characters and world building. I was slightly disappointed with the major plot revelation but then I would be, I’m not a young adult! For target audience though, it’s not too bad and does provide the motivation for many of the characters.

All in all, this is a good first book from an aspiring author. As an adult I found it entertaining and I’m glad I read it.

A solid 4/5 for a well written book from an up and coming author.

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

Link By D.A. Karr

Link by D A Karr
Click here to buy this eBook from Amazon.
As a huge Sci Fi fan, I was looking forward to reading ‘Link’ by D.A. Karr. It promised time travel, war and human interest. To quote, “’Link’ sits in its own class. It actually parallels The Hunt for Red October”, but with a mystery-thriller twist And of course, the technological development with it in the sci-fi genre”. Is this an actual comparison to the writing style of Tom Clancy or perhaps his imagination?

Lets start off with the story. There is a single plot, it’s linear that does have some development. The action is good, the ideas are there but it’s the execution that lets the story down. I’ll get to that in a mo…

A military team working for the National Space Time Enforcement Agency have to hunt down a renegade who is in control of a large cyborg army.

Captain Becker is in charge of the time travelling spaceship Phoenix and the military team is led by John Garrick, team members include Ferber, Gillie (the only female in the story) and Wexler. I wish I could say more about them but their characters and histories are not developed enough.

There are many things that are wrong with the ‘Link’. I really don’t want to hurt the authors feelings but whoever did the final editing failed at their job. I am no grammar expert but there are mistakes that should not be there, the writing comes across as clunky and to me it’s more like a second draft.

Here’s an example of what I see as clunky…

Garrick reared up with his android blood running through his android veins, “Sure. It’s time I took Menser one on one. I’ll finish the job this time. When do we leave?”

and for grammar…

Cyborg’s shut down and dropped where they stood, lifeless, minus their power source.

Hate to say it but androids don’t have blood. There are certain terms and concepts that should be used in a particular way. Cyborgs have blood as they are part human part machine. Androids are all machine, basically walking talking computers with human form. If you ignore these terms and concepts then you confuse the reader, makes the plot line more difficult to follow and you’re not following convention.

Halfway through the book, which is quite short by the way, I realised who it’s really for. It’s not for the likes of me who read mostly Sci Fi but more for young teens who are new to the genre or just getting in to it.

At the end, while reading the blurb, I understood why I had a problem with it. The ‘Link’ had started out as a screenplay and subsequently turned into a book. Somehow the process hadn’t gone well.

With a little extra work, from an editor who knows the field, the ‘Link’ could be turned into a really good adventure for a teen audience. Plenty of things to expand on and could turn into a series fun books.

Recommendations: for adults – 1/5, for teens 3/5

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

My Top 10: Books I Love To Read Again And Again

foundationI love reading Sci Fi books, I have a moderate collection of around 300 – 400 which I dip in to now and again. I’ve read most of them but there are a few that I will read over and over. I compare it to listening to your favourite album or rewatching a film. It’s the way they makes you feel or think that brings you back to them.

Really great authors have an amazing way of taking you in their worlds. They take your hand and lead you through their worlds but leaving you to create the images of how they look in your own imagination.

This my list of ten books have had that affect on me. No matter how many times I read them, I still get that feeling…

Isaac Asimove: Foundation

I first picked up this book in my early teens. Since then I’ve re-read it many times. I still find as entertaining as I did back then. It was one the first books I had read that had a broad and exciting plot. The fall of the galactic empire, the rise of another – all foretold by a mathematician.

Arthur C. Clark: A Touch Of Moon Dust

What made this book stand out for me is that it’s high drama. High drama in outer space that didn’t involve aliens or ‘weird’ stuff. The prose and it’s pace that kept me reading even when I was too tired to continue!

Arthur C. Clark:2001 A Space Oddessy

The film and the book were created almost simultaneously. And as good as the film is – which I have watched over and over – I still prefer the book. It’s a fantastic journey which I love to take, mainly because of the story telling and the imagery.

James Blish: Cities In Flight

This is a 4 volume series which was one of the first saga’s I had read. The time period covered is about two thousand years and covers the entire galaxy. The broad reach of the books grabbed my imagination and still does today.

Harry Harrison: The Stainless Steel Rate

I first read this book, the first of a series, when I was a teen. The hero, Slippery Jim DiGriz, was the first character I had come across that was a law breaker and cavorted around from planet to planet. It’s a great fun read and I love the scrapes and dangers he has to face.

Kim Stanley Robinson: Red Mars Trilogy

What I really like about these books is that you get to care about the characters and their future. They are developed so well that you want to know what they do next. The science comes across as real and woven in to the story without taking over. Of all the characters in the story, Mars is the most interesting.

William Gibson: Count Zero

This was my first introduction to the new wave of science fiction of the 80’s. The world it occupies is so different from the books I had read before. Clean and ordered gives way to gritty, urban and messy. A high-tech future where nothing has really changed.

Isaac Asimov: Caves Of Steel

A murder mystery on an Earth that is overpopulated. Again, this is a book that I read as a teen and still love to read today. Features robots and Spacers, great for a young readers but I still get something out of it each time I read it.

Cordwainer Smith: Norstrilia

I first read Norstrilia a few years ago. Once I finished the book I had to find more and more to read by the same author. It’s an incredible future with people are fashioned out of animals, humans linking to cats during space flight to ward off malevolent entities. It’s all very strange, a future of human kind like you’ve never read before. I love anything by Cordwainer Smith!

Philip K. Dick: Beyond Lies The Wub

This is actually an anthology of short stories. While PKD is famous for his books, he is so much better in short story form. I love to dip in and read a few when ever I get the time and I never get tired of them. From outer-space to rural farms, nothing is straight forward with PKD…

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

The Saga Of The Seven Suns by Kevin J. Anderson

hidden-empire
Click image to find the book on Amazon UK
The Saga Of The Seven Suns is a very good example of what we don’t see much of these days, the Sci Fi sub genre of the ‘space saga’.

For me, a saga employs a huge backdrop, a large cast of characters and spans a good deal of time. The Seven Suns epic fits that perfectly.

When I speak of the “Seven Suns”, an abbreviation I shall use from here on, I am actually referring to the 7 book series (eight if you include the prequel graphic novel). The author, Kevin J. Anderson, has produced an exciting and consistent story that spans the galaxy. How he managed to keep everything organised without gaps and loop holes is beyond me!

The series starts with the powerful Terran Hanseatic League and the devious plotting of Chairman Basil Wenceslas. A puppet king is removed and another installed. The discovery of an ancient civilisation, robot spiders and the exploits of the Roamers. While some consider book one to be an almost standalone story, it leaves you with a cliff hanger in a universe that is opening up before the reader.

Each book, while not quite an independent story in it’s own right, develops characters and the story-arc further with out losing pace. Multiple books allows for the different parts of the story to be told in full with out having to cut anything short. However the reverse of that is that some parts of the story seems to be a little long or contains a sub plot repetitive of the main one.

In my own opinion, the author keeps to what I understand a saga should be. It does indeed span a great deal of time, but there’s a niggling problem. There is little indication of time passing. The characters go from world to world, new colonies are founded and battles take place. Little clue as to how much time this all took. I guess it’s a minor detail considering and doesn’t spoil things to much.

Characters seem real enough, they all have their own motivations and flaws. The story flows but there are times when it seems just a little too long. The pace is kept up well enough, short chapters see to that. Overall it’s written well focusing on the characters to take the story further. It doesn’t make the mistake of using technology for the sake of it or to solve a plot point. It’s there but in the background, waiting for the characters to make use of it in their endeavours.

If you take on this series, start with book one and as soon as you have finished start on book two. I read books one to four and it was a couple of years later before I started on book five. I just about remembered who did what and where things stood. Thankfully there are overviews of what happened before at the start of each book.

Would I recommend this series? Yes, no problem. Should you read it? If you already into Sci Fi then yeah, it will be classed as a classic “must read” in the future. If you only dip into Sci Fi once in a while and think it’s all right then no, it’s not for you. Not yet, there are some books you really need to read first.

4 bites If you’re interested in reading the series then head over to Amazon UK and start with

P.S If you’re interested in reading the series then head over to Amazon UK and start with Hidden Empire (Saga of Seven Suns).

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I've never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father's reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre's. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other 'golden age' authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.