Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time

If you’d ever wondered what the universe was made of and how it came to be, and don’t mind your technical science, then this book is going to be just the ticket. Hawking gives us a very in depth and inquisitive look at the origins of our understanding of the universe, and makes it both readable and fascinating to readers of any age or education level.

As most of you probably know, I write sci-fi when I’m not running about battling pirates or making sure my dragons don’t argue over whether or not the prophecies are working right.  I’m also a closet astronomer and I love dabbling in astrophysics sometimes. I picked up A Brief History on the recommendation of another friend when I was discussing the genesis of black holes and the potential for wormholes to form in our galaxy, and I was not disappointed in what I found. Sure, it took me a few months to read in between working way too much and the loss of my bedside lamp, but I got there and boy was it a good ride. It expanded on a few things I already vaguely knew about (stuff like string theory, quantum entanglement, and the grand unified theory), but also educated me on the intricacies of said theories and added colour to what was once a textbook interpretation. Hawking is a capable and expansive writer, if not entirely personable (his style is heavily influenced by academic style but no less enjoyable), and I’d certainly read more of his work in the future. I’ve got the follow-up book, A Briefer History of Time, sitting in wait on my bedside table, but for now I think I’ll go explore some other things.

Of late I’ve been going on a bit of a reading binge to help combat some of my seemingly ever-present stress, and my horrible writer’s block. So far it seems to have helped, but sadly my bookcase is a bit too full and some of my books will have to go.

Anyway that’s it from me for now. Stay tuned for next time!

-P

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Glenn Cooper’s Library Of The Dead, and an update

Hello everyone and welcome back to uh, that thing I do where I blog about books!

I know, I know. It’s been ages. I’ve been dealing with a lot of… stuff, lately. Personal, most of it good but some things have required me to adjust and its taken up a lot of my time. Along with that I’ve been madly collecting books (help, I might get swallowed by them) and working furiously on my novel, Pirates of Time, which I’m planning to publish this year if the proverbial fates allow. Work has been swallowing up a lot of time too so that’s been fun (regular travel to the other side of town, aka, where did five hours of my life just go).

Onwards with the review! I’ve been reading Library of the Dead for quite some time now. Largely, this has been because of a very slow start to the book itself. I was convinced I wouldn’t keep it and just send it off to another good home, buuuut the end has me clinging onto it like a favourite sweater. The writing style is clipped and to the point, which is something I’ve always liked in an adventure novel. It’s got a little mystery thrown in, along with some perhaps predictable but still fun romance, and it kept me hooked until the end. It reminded me very much of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, specifically in its structure and pace. It certainly fits in with the adventure theme that the late 2000’s produced, and has the same style of witty banter and relateable characters.

The main character, Will, is a perpetually drunken FBI agent tasked with unravelling the Doomsday Case, a string of what is assumed to be murders with no obvious culprit. His search leads him down many twisting paths, but the last thing he expected was to uncover a centuries old mystery that itself has no logical explanation. His investigation is often stymied by false leads and an uncooperative government, and ends with a twist that leaves him both jobless and shocked, but a better man. There’s a lead to a sequel as well, The Book of Souls, which Will again features in. The first chapter and the prologue were included at the end of my copy, and it looks to be a book I’d happily read though it seems to be based on a similar premise to its predecessor.

Critiques and other comments… the only thing that really bothered me was the slow start to the novel. In saying that, the slow approach did help to make the climaxes that much more exciting. The novel’s characters did play to some stereotypes, but in the end it worked in favour of the piece by adding extra colour and intrigue to the plot. Will was an unpredictable narrator: you never quite knew what he’d do next, and his believability was only enhanced.

All in all, I’ve decided to hold onto Library of the Dead, and I look forward to reading its sequel. It’s a slamming adventure novel and one I’d definitely recommend to anyone who is a die hard fan of the genre.

Happy reading, folks, and stay tuned for more updates and reviews!

-P

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a play by Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, and J.K. Rowling

Hello readers!

First of all I know this is SUPER late considering when this book came out in July of this year.

Second of all, wow.

As someone who grew up reading and cherishing the Harry Potter series, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from The Cursed Child. As it turns out, the play is short, snappy, and uses wit like a fine garnish on your favourite dinner. The characters are more or less as I remembered them, so it was almost like visiting old friends who’d grown up rather a lot.

As far as the plot goes, it’s easy to follow and keeps your interest. I managed to get through it all in the equivalent of a day, which is record breaking in terms of speed for me. It explored a lot of facets that the original series didn’t quite get the chance to cover – most notably an alternate world where Voldemort’s forces prevailed during The Battle of Hogwarts – , and it was definitely refreshing to get the take of other writers. The Cursed Child wasn’t written purely by Rowling, although she did have major say in how the play was not only performed but constructed. Tiffany and Thorne are both prolific playwrights and directors, and their experience really shows in the way that the characters are delivered to the stage. The humour is emphasised, expressiveness is key, and their skills combined with Rowling’s familiarity with the world and her characters makes for a spectacular combination to bring everything to life. I found myself laughing at the wit of Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, following the two unlikely friends through their world almost like I had their parents, who had grown into fine adults. It’s that sense of magical charm and wonder which has been so carefully preserved that makes The Cursed Child so enjoyable, and the same reason I’d gladly read it again for many years to come.

All of that said, though, a few things still niggle at me when I think back on it. First of all, Ron. Something seemed a little off about him and I wasn’t quite sure what it was. He always seemed too eager to be funny, trying too hard to fit into a world where he already belonged. That had never quite been the case with his younger version, even after the events of The Half Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows. Harry seemed perhaps a little too neurotic, too. Of course it’s to be expected after what happened during the series, but there’s only so much creative liberty you can take with a set of characters which are so well established in the minds of their fan base and readers all across the world. Finally, the method of scene presentation – the constant jumping between time periods, the lack of a linear flow, and multiple use of flashbacks – was a little jarring for the purposes of the play, and perhaps could have been handled with more fluidity.

The Cursed Child is definitely getting a permanent home on my bookshelf next to its brethren. It’s a solid read with a fast pace, a gripping plot, and – I won’t lie – just a hint of nostalgia which is more than welcome in these post-Potter years. If you’d been dubious about reading it because of stage reviews, throw caution to the wind. It’s worth the time.

That’s it from me for now, until next time!

AdmiralCarter

Review: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (SPOILERS)

Hello readers!

So I very recently finished reading through my copy of Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and let me tell you this is one heck of a book.

oryx_and_crake

I bought the book going purely off of Atwood’s name, having read The Handmaid’s Tale and adoring it. Oryx and Crake certainly lives up to Atwood’s reputation as a stellar writer, and the longer I read the book the more I was drawn into her world.

It’s set in present-day Earth, perhaps a few years from now. Human society has been separated into the haves and the have-nots, and is starting to crumble despite our best attempts at rescuing it with technology and medicines, and more exciting and different ways to pass the time. Companies have begun to try and find new ways of existing, as resources run out and diseases become widespread.

The story itself focuses on a young boy named Jimmy, and tells the story of the decline of human civilisation through his eyes as he grows up. He’s an old man when the story begins, living in a desolate world with nothing and no-one to keep him company but other strange humanoid people. People he calls Crakers. We slowly find out the story of how these people came to be, and how one of Jimmy’s childhood friends – Crake  – was involved in their creation, and in the subsequent destruction of civilisation as we know it.

Crake himself was a boy genius, who became Jimmy’s closest friend through circumstance. Over time the two grew close, and -though it escaped Jimmy’s notice – Crake came up with his grand plan to help ‘fix’ humanity. He became a genetic scientist of sorts and created the Crakers, genetically modifying them for efficiency and to avoid wars, diseases, and hatred. He befriended a woman Jimmy had fallen for whilst still young, and she became close with both men. It wasn’t until Crake came up with a pill which was advertised to ‘increase sexual activity and repress the need for maladaptive expressions of energy’ that things started to go horribly wrong.

I won’t say any more on the plot, it’s much more intricate than what I’ve described here and well worth the read.

Atwood’s writing clearly shows her mastery of storytelling, especially in the way she describes her characters as if they’re real. As if you could look up and find that person standing in front of you. Jimmy is a figment when the book begins, but slowly he becomes real. Crake and Oryx, too, become real, and you see them as Jimmy does. They reveal themselves slowly and with import, as they are remembered, and you remember them, too, after the book is said and done.

The grasp on setting here follows the ‘less is more’ rule with strict adherence. A genetically modified pig on a rampage here, a destroyed building there, an apocalyptic vision against a majestic sunrise in the distance. You don’t need much to show what a disaster looks like, or to give it the gravity and feeling it deserves.

Anyway go read it! It’s a very poignant tale about what could be a possibility in the near future, and for me it was a solid reminder to always keep your perspective straight.

That’s all from me for now, until next time!

-AdmiralCarter

Review: The Road to Dune

Hello everyone!

I know it’s been far too long. I should really get to updating this more regularly. Anyway, the past few weeks (months?) have seen me take a trip to Melbourne, where I picked up a few more books and spent my days blissfully immersed in the culture and amazing culinary delights of the capital city. It was also freezing and very wet, so it was almost a reprieve to return to the warm climes of Brisbane (although my immediate need for air conditioning when I got off the plane would tell you otherwise).

Work has been keeping me suitably busy too, and as a result I’ve had very little time to write since the conclusion of July’s Camp NaNo in which I managed to smash a goal of 15,000 words on Dreamchaser, the second book in the ‘Verse Chronicles (working titles). I’ve since grabbed a copy of the ever lauded Scrivener software, and it’s been surprisingly helpful in my efforts to rekindle my daily writing habits. Sometimes a change of pace really is all you need.

To the review! The Road to Dune, written by Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson, is a collaborative companion to the Dune series (the first book, Dune, published in 1965 and written by Frank Herbert). This treasure trove of information speaks of many things, including Herbert’s worldbuilding process for the Dune series, many short stories and spinoffs, character information and inspiration, and even excerpt from letters between Herbert and his editors on the concepts driving the Dune series. As someone who has only read the first novel in the six-book sci-fi series, I did encounter a few spoilers about the following books. That didn’t bother me too much, though, because the series itself is so complex that it needs a guide.

What did I really like about this? It’s attention to detail. I’ve read a few companion books in the past, but none of them really give you an insight into the author’s mind like The Road to Dune did. It mirrors the detail given to the world construction in the Dune series, and even clears up some of the more confounded ideas. Since Dune focuses heavily on political manoeuvres, its easy to get lost and forget who’s doing what. That’s a quality which originally drew me into the series, but eventually I began wondering if I needed to keep a timeline. The companion clears that up, and points out how some of the characters were meant to serve different roles than what they ended up doing.

What else stood out? In particular, the longevity of the Dune series. One thing I’ve heard many readers say is that although they liked the book/series, it felt too long and drawn out. It reminds me in some ways of the “too many sequels” problem that some perfectly good movies suffer from, where over time some of the original content becomes mired in too many layers of meaning and it loses its charm. The first book of Dune still holds its attraction for me, but after reading the development within the companion, it seems that the whole cult following that Paul Atriedes creates is… perhaps taken too far. Then again, maybe that’s a reflection on how humanity deals with things like that. Take something and run with it, until it loses steam, then pick up something else. It’s a perpetual cycle, and its definitely reflected well in Dune and in the following works spotlighted in The Road to Dune.

There’s not much more to say on that point. I was reading this book in between reading Dune and a bunch of other novels, including Skeins Unfurled by K.M. Vanderbilt, so progress has been very slow. Next on my review list will be Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, which I picked up some time ago from a secondhand book sale and am already enamoured with. Along with that, I’ll be working on some language details for the ‘Verse Chronicles, so stay tuned for conlang developments!

That’s all from me. Don’t stop reading!

AdmiralCarter

 

 

Review: Rebecca Makkai’s The Borrower

Good afternoon readers and welcome to my review of Rebecca Makkai’s debut novel, The Borrower.

The first thing I want to say about this novel is that I picked it up off a bookshelf at a small bookstore, curious about its contents after seeing the cover and the blurb. It sat on my shelf untouched for a year or two, until I picked it up a few weeks ago and decided to sate my curiosity. The Borrower, published in 2011, is a novel about self-discovery, and about coming to terms with one’s own past. It’s not my usual fare, as some of you may know, so I was mildly surprised when I found myself enthralled by its characters and wanting to know more about their lives. The main character, Lucy Hull, finds herself getting deeper and deeper in the life of young Ian Drake. So deep, in fact, that Ian demands to be ‘kidnapped’ by her in a journey which takes them across America and almost into Canada, in order to find Ian’s dead ‘grandmother’. The reason Lucy is so attached? She believes that Ian is gay, and that his heavily religious parents are attempting to have his ‘illness’ taken away by the grace of God, and Pastor Bob of Glad Heart Ministries. The ever anxious Ian is attempting to run away from his parents, but not all is as dire as it seems. The two protagonists go on a journey in which they both learn some things, and Lucy is reminded of her Russian family and their history as runaways, leaving a hardened country to come to the land where there’s nothing to run from. Nothing, of course, except yourself.

Like I said earlier, this isn’t the type of book I would usually read. And yet, I found myself enjoying it for its witty content and very solid character portrayal. The only issue I had was  the sometimes slightly out-of-character depictions of the ten- and eleven- year- old Ian, who constantly threw tantrums like a five year old and seemed to be making decisions of increasingly questionable basis. Though I suspect it was out of a desperation to escape his own demons, it still seemed a little strange to me.

The thing that stuck with me the most about The Borrower was the way Lucy began to discover things about herself and her family, in ways that perhaps took her by surprise. It really spoke to the meaning of the word family, and how its different for everyone. Sometimes in ways you never even dreamed possible.

That’s it for me for the moment. I haven’t yet decided what I’ll read next, but stay tuned for the usual updates!

-AdmiralCarter

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island: A Review

Ok hello again readers and welcome to the review of Treasure Island!

First off, Treasure Island is one of those classic “young-kid-turns-dashing-hero’ novels which were pretty prolific during the late 1800s. Its well written, if a little dry, but lacks nothing in the interest department. Every action is thought out and meticulously catalogued, to the point where some basic levels of seafaring knowledge are almost required to get the full enjoyment out of the book. Besides that, for a seafaring nerd like me it’s a good read and a grand tale of adventure to boot.

My only qualm with this book was how much the characters rambled. Then again, that was a common feature of writing styles of the time period and in some ways it did give the book its own kind of flavour, one which isn’t often seen these days. I’d liken it to the way Moby Dick was written, with complete attention to detail. Sometimes a little too much, perhaps. I did find, though, that the more I read of the book the easier it was to overlook these niggling details and enjoy the plot for what it was. I became so absorbed in it that I nearly missed my bus stop.

By far, the most colourful characters in Treasure Island were the pirates themselves. Each action was a drama-filled festivity, a stroke of a paintbrush of a million colours. One might even think that Stevenson had spent time with the pirates he wrote about. To some degree this has given me more inspiration for working on Pirates of Time, which I haven’t touched in a while thanks to work commitments.

That said, I think Treasure Island is a keeper for me. Its a novel you want to reread, one that gives you a warm sense of home whenever you crack it open. For me, that’s the most important thing.

That’s it from me for now, but please stay tuned for my next review of Rebecca Makkai’s The Borrower.

AdmiralCarter