Monday, 28 January 2013

Review: A Big Hand For The Doctor By Eoin Colfer

A Big Hand For The Doctor was a good opener for the 50th Anniversary series of Doctor Who e-books written by children's authors.

But it was marred by one annoying little thing... it had three or four pop culture references (all from the 21st century) that just seem so forced (Oooo... Hogwarts) that it was actually pretty jarring. Here's this nice little tale set in Victorian London featuring the First Doctor and Susan and suddenly BAM you are taken out of the story by an unnecessary reference.

Anyway, enough grumbling, it was a lovely little tale with some disturbing villains and a fantastic ending that I did not see coming (but once you know what it is, it is pretty obvious!).

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Do Doctor Who Fans Really Have Anything To Worry About In This 50th Anniversary Year?

Much has been made on fan forums of this picture of a BBC Worldwide promotional poster taken at a toy convention.

After Steven Moffat suggested Doctor Who would take over TV for the anniversary I would say fans could be justifiably miffed at the paltry offerings on display. But I'd caution that 1) Doctor Who producers are infamous liars and should never be trusted and 2) we don't know that that is everything on offer. 

Unfortunately a lot of fans seem to be losing their heads over this. I suppose, because I became a Doctor Who fan in the wildnerness years of the early 90s, I'm a little more willing to accept whatever I'm given. But even if we get nothing more than what has already been announced I really don't think Doctor Who fans have anything to be complaining about. 

So we've got 8 standard episodes of Doctor Who series 7 to come. A 50th anniversary special and An Adventure in Space and Time which dramatises the production of the first series of Doctor Who. Plus we get  11 Doctor Who audio stories in the form of the Destiny of the Doctor (starting this month with Hunters of Earth). And we get a Big Finish multi-Doctor story The Light At The End featuring all 5 surviving "Classic" Doctors and multiple other Doctor Who stars. 

Big Finish are also giving us, in their main Doctor Who range, a trilogy of stories set in 1963 with the final story featuring a return of the stars of the 25th anniversary! Meanwhile their Companion Chronicles series will feature another trilogy starting in November with the first story telling the tale of the Doctor and Susan on Gallifrey before they began their adventures. 

Meanwhile in the world of books... Each month between now and November Puffin are releasing a short story by e-book written by well known children's authors. I read the first one last night, A Big Hand For The Doctor, and was suitably impressed. 

Plus IDW are printing a special 11 part series of comics featuring every Doctor and the Doctor Who Magazine has just started its own Doctor Who anniversary special comic story. 

And on top of all this we are getting other Doctor Who books, the usual Big Finish output (which is considerable) and the new IDW Doctor Who volume 3. 

So no, I think content wise this year is going to be mammoth!!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Review: Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston

I bought this in my post-Christmas Amazon spree based solely on Michael Crichton's name. Then I read the reviews and was a little taken aback. Harsh is not the word!

When I was 10 years old I read my first "adult" book; Jurassic Park. I have vivid memories of reading it whenever I could, barely able to put it down (even to the point of reading it in the dark on a long car journey trying desperately to read as we went past lampposts!). Ever since, even after I found our politics didn't quite match up, I've had very fond feelings about Michael Crichton's books. When he passed away I was deeply saddened. Micro was an unfinished work and Richard Preston took over the task of finishing after Crichton's death. With the nasty reviews on Amazon fresh in my mind I started reading with a little bit of trepidation.

I needn't have worried. It does have a little bit of "unpolished" feel and it does feature Crichton's rather typically OTT villain (Denis Nedry for example) but I like it. Not loved it, but very much enjoyed the journey.

It is very much Honey I Shrunk The Kids meets Jurassic Park, featuring people shrunken to a tiny size fighting their way through a forest and encountering ants, wasps, centipedes and murderous robots. I suppose that makes it a little Innerspace too really.

As his last work (that we know of currently) it fittingly had a very Jurassic Park feel. I look forward to the movie!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Review: The Protector's War By S. M. Stirling

I'm an Audible subscriber and, on top of the books I'm reading, usually fill my commuting time by listening to audiobooks. Having read S. M. Stirling's superb Nantucket trilogy (check out Island In The Sea Of Time as a starting point) it was only natural that last year I listened to the first in his connected "Emberverse" saga; "Dies The Fire".

Unfortunately I approached as if it was just another alternative history or post-apocalyptic story and thus didn't enjoy it as much as I could have. It took me a few months to try and get into the very popular saga once more but this time I approached it with more of an open mind.

The Protector's War is the follow-up and I enjoyed it far more than Dies The Fire (but that again is more to do with how I approached it rather than a reflection on Dies The Fire). Let us set the scene... 9 years ago something messed up the physics around our planet and gunpowder, electrics and a whole host of useful things simply stopped working. Chaos ensued and most of the world died as food ran out. By the end of Dies The Fire things had begun to reorganise but the world was a very different place. The Protector's War picks up where it left off 9 years ago revisiting our characters in the Willamette Valley in Oregon as they attempt to prepare themselves for a possible war with a warlord to their north. Battling bandits, setting up future dynastic clashes and introducing some unexpected visitors from afar it is a very entertaining read.

I won't pretend that S. M. Stirling's style of writing takes a bit of getting used to. He will go into intricate detail about EVERYTHING. Some people paint with words, S. M. Stirling takes a 10 megapixel digital picture. And the way his characters think can be somewhat jarring. The protagonists are all far too clever, far too brave and far too well-prepared to be truly believable. But that is where I went wrong before. This isn't a post-apocalyptic fiction book... it is fantasy. And if you approach it as you would Lord of the Rings, you'll enjoy it a great deal.

S. M. Stirling is a worldbuilder and I want to know more about this world he is building. This is definitely a 5 star book.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Jurassic Park IV: Rebooted Dinosaurs Needed?

When I was young (we are talking "in the 1980s" here) I inherited the dinosaur books that my aunties and uncles had used in the 60s and 70s. Big, boldly coloured books full of beautiful pictures they began my love affair with dinosaurs (helped by frequent visits to Maidstone museum to buy the Invicta line of dinosaur models). However even as a child I could tell there was something a little wrong with those pictures. Snorkelling brachiosaurs seemed to conflict with the then current models of tall, strong brachiosaurs I was playing with.

Paleontology is still a young science, new discoveries that change the fundamental understanding of how dinosaurs and other related species looked and acted are made all the time. In writing Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton did his best to stay true to the late 80s understanding of dinosaurs, and the subsequent movie had several expert advisors (such as Jack Horner) to help guide it. Even so, 20 years later Jurassic Park's dinosaurs are starting to look very out of date.

For example, at the time of Crichton's research, Deinonychus was named by some as Velociraptor antirrhopus. Given the similarities in size, it is pretty clear that Deinonychus is the basis for the infamous Raptors seen in the movie. Now this has been revised and what is known as a Velociraptor today (an animal roughly around 0.5m tall with feathers) is totally unlike the Raptors of Jurassic Park.

The Original JP Version

          The JPIII Redesign 
Current Impression Of What Deinonychus Might Have Looked Like

Will Jurassic Park IV acknowledge the new discoveries? Will it keep to the, very well-recognised, designs from the earlier movies or be bold and completely reinvent them? Will we get properly feathered dinosaurs or even newly discovered ones?

I've seen some say that they could keep the original designs, perhaps slightly modified, but explain the differences due to the amphibian DNA used during the cloning process. This sounds decent, or they could take the explanation from the original book that Wu got his way and redesigned the dinosaurs to look more like people expected (in the book Wu and Hammond argue about this sort of genetic engineering). Not only is this fiction but it is fiction based on still up for debate science meaning they can take some liberties (as they did with both the dilophosaurs poison and "mane").

The dinosaur fanboy in me would love for them to be very bold indeed and make some of the newly discovered dinosaurs as infamous and terrifying as the original Jurassic Park made velociraptors. Or they could just do an "upgrade" to utahraptors who dwarfed deinonychus. 

Here's looking forward to whatever new designs and dinosaurs they come up with! 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Jurassic Park IV: This Time They Really Are Doing It (Probably)

I have been looking forward to Jurassic Park IV for quite some time. We have had a hundred false starts, ever year it has been postponed by another year or two.

Well this time it looks like they mean business! They have set a release date of June 13 2014 which is the firmest evidence we've been given yet that this project is moving forward.

I truly hope they do the franchise justice and take it off in a direction that will allow it to flourish and create ever more media... Jurassic Park is my favourite franchise.

In other related news.... In anticipation of the release of Jurassic Park 3D this year, The Asylum has announced the production of a new mockbuster "Age of Dinosaurs". Here is the synopsis.

Using breakthrough flesh-regeneration technology, a biotech firm creates a set of living dinosaurs. But when the creatures escape their museum exhibit and terrorize Los Angeles, a former firefighter must rescue his teenage daughter from the chaos brought on by the Age of Dinosaurs.

I am a "fan" of The Asylum stuff simply because it amuses me but I really hope they try to make this one good. It could be epic if only they get some people who can act.

Anyway... excited for JPIV!!!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Review: Animal Kingdom: An Apocalyptic Horror Novel by Iain Rob Wright

Book 2 of 2013's reading list! Woo.... And today it is the turn of "Animal Kingdom: An Apocalyptic Horror Novel"

This review is going be a total downer and I wish it wasn't. It's competently written which is pretty good for a book in its price range and shows the hard work the author has put into this novel. But it doesn't work for me.

Set in a zoo on the day that every animal in the world turns against humans, it has a very interesting premise. I've seen this premise work out a little in Brian Keene's "The Rising", although in that book they were undead animals adding to an already pretty serious zombie apocalypse. However the first flaw in the book is the way that premise works out. These now, at the very least semi-intelligent, animals with a bloodlust don't really try very hard to get at the humans. It isn't just mammals affected but reptiles and even anthropods. I just couldn't see how the timing worked. This premise might have worked played out over a day, maybe two. But over a few days? By then the spiders could've slipped into ears, noses and mouths of the people and down untold amounts of damage. Monkeys could've destroyed the window and torn apart doors.

I know, I'm an animal obsessive, but just the presentation of a group of chimps being fairly easily avoided (and luckily killing one of the antagonists) seemed totally unreal. The way the premise played out seemed to defy belief and given with these type of books one has already suspended ones belief that takes some doing.

And I can't decide if the characters were just paper thin or if I just didn't like any of them. They acted in unbelievable ways. Take Bill, whose boyfriend is killed during the opening events of the novel, he doesn't spend a moment (not a single moment) grieving. Now of them seem all that fazed by events. The only person who has anything approaching a breakdown is already on tablets for OCD. And the lead character, Joe, is just unlikeable. The villains are 1) selfish, power hungry businessman, 2) aggressive yobbish former soldier and 3) God-botherer.

I couldn't bring myself to read the short stories that come with this book. I read it to the end simply because I felt I owed it to myself not to give up on my plan to read all the books on my reading list so early on.

I was looking forward to this book (hence it being 2nd on the list!) but I'm greatly disappointed.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Review: Island Life By William Meikle

After a particularly big Amazon binge following some unexpectedly large gifts of Amazon vouchers, my Kindle is overflowing with books. I'm a terrible hoarder and already had a backlog of books anyway. Now something must be done so I'm dedicated to reading as many of the unread books I own as possible this year.

First up was Island Life by William Meikle. The Kindle edition was under £2 and I wasn't expecting much but bought it as it had quite a good rating. I was more than pleasantly surprised.

Set on a Scottish island, it details a scary couple of days as supernatural horrors burst forth from a recently begun archaeological dig. It is a very simple story, and Meikle does not waste time on unnecessary intricate details, so the pacing of the book makes for an easy read.

Meikle writes characters well enough that you do worry about what might happen to them. There are a few chilling scenes (especially the main character Duncan's flashback to a time he ended up trapped in caves in his youth), and enough realistic interactions to keep the supernatural aspects grounded.

This is no masterpiece, but it is well-written, genuinely creepy and was a great antidote to Stephen King's (also awesome) 11/22/63 that I had just managed to get through. Stephen King writes masterpieces but they aren't easy reading! Island Life was a pleasure compared to that.

I'd rate it 4/5 and, once I'm through my backlog, I'll be looking up more of Meikle's work.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

11.22.63 - Stephen King Still Has It!

I've just finished reading Stephen King's 11.22.63. It is the story of a man who is shown a way to travel into the past and, on the way to stopping the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, begins to discover time  doesn't want to be changed.

I'm a huge Stephen King fan. This does mean I'm more able to put up with the "extra padding" he tends to put in his books. It exists here, I won't deny it, and there is a great deal that could've been left out. But then again that is a bit like being unhappy that someone would do a painting when they could just do a line drawing. 

The story is good, the pacing is up there with the better Stephen King novels, and you do start to care about the mission. Will he stop the assassination? What will happen if he does? Those questions are answered and the ending of the book is far more satisfying that you'd think given we know JFK really was assassinated.

The usual King touches are there. He has brief snippets of what I'd call "Kingese" (Jimla!). We have references to his other works, with an extended stay for Jake Epping (the main character) in Derry where he interacts with characters from IT not long after the 50s segment of that book. I'm a huge IT fan and I was so pleased to read Bev and Richie once again! And yes, the protagonist is an English teacher...  

This is certainly one of his better books, coming somewhere just below IT and The Stand on my personal favourites list. Check it out!

Stephen King's 11.22.63 -,