Monday 31 January 2022

Book Reviews on SF Crowsnest

Here is a link to all my book reviews on SF Crowsnest including 'Dawn' by Octavia Butler, 'Warbreaker' and 'The Rithmatist' by Brandon Sanderson, and 'The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue' by V. E. Schwab.


Monday 4 October 2021

Announcement of New Book Release

My new novel 'Dragon of the Water' is released on Amazon on the 7th of October.

Amazon US Kindle

Amazon UK Kindle 

A girl rescued from indentured servitude by a mysterious relative searches for her own identity in a secluded castle.

A boy imprisoned by a mother he doesn't know seeks only escape.

A man fights to undo the crimes of his past even though it will cost his very existence.

A dragon, ancient and powerful, filled with terrible anger and sorrow, must keep its power in check or destroy everything and everyone.

Four lives intertwined by bonds of blood and magic, one will come who would undo them all.


It is a bit of a SF/Fantasy hybrid as it deals with a universe where scientific achievements and magic live side by side. In my own way, like my other novels, I've attempted to subvert reader expectation and come up with a story with more than  a few twists and turns that is heavy on characterisation and action. I hope my readers will enjoy it as much as my previous novels.

Monday 12 October 2020

Update 12/10/2020

Hi blog readers, I have been doing some book reviews on SFcrowsnest recently which can be found on these links:



I also had my Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart short story 'Special Responsibility' published in:

'The Lethbridge-Stewart Short Story Collection'


This is available on Amazon:

Set between the Doctor Who stories 'The Web of Fear' and 'The Invasion', this story features the Brig dealing with an alien that accidentally kills a civilian and then hands itself in to the authorities.

The Collection itself features a variety of stories by a number of other authors than myself and has managed to accrue some good ratings on amazon. 


Saturday 23 May 2020

Picard 2020 - Review

The new Star Trek series 'Picard' is what you would call a slow burn. The action is gradual, the formation of circumstances and reveals each building on the last to slowly reveal a picture of the whole. It's definitely not like the Star Trek The Next Generation of old where each story had to be completed in forty or so minutes.

To be honest, I don't miss the lingering dramatic close-ups of Picard's stoic unchanging expression when faced with a dramatic revelation two or three times an episode. This time the story from perhaps one TNG two-parter is spread over ten episodes and it's just nice and easy to watch without being earth-shattering or formulaic.

Picard himself as played by Patrick Stewart is initially a little doddery, in that his voice is strained and breaking, he is a little hunched, his walking slow and requiring visible effort. I believe he is meant to be 94 years old, which in 24th Century Terms probably means around 75. To add to this he has a brain abnormality which was alluded to in TNG and which he is told will most likely kill him before old age does. All this goes to create a Picard very different to the one from the TV series or even the films. He is vulnerable, weak and he is ignored and dismissed by those who would normally listen to him. In short he is made to feel like a has-been, his words, his oratory, no longer possessing their former weight.

Off-screen this is added to by the fact that Picard has suffered a personal failure which caused his resignation from Star Fleet and been disheartened by the fact that the Federation seem to have dismissed and turned away from many of its own lofty ideals out of inconvenience. As such Picard no longer feels that he is relevant and through the course of the series he is trying to find a cause to get behind, trying to re-ignite his passion and live again. This is evident by the fact that during the course of the series Picard's voice becomes stronger as his own confidence and strength returns. You could say it's about redemption, or finding purpose, or just a man who realises it is more important to matter to and believe in himself. It is through that belief that he comes full circle, inspiring others to follow him once more. In the end Picard convinces the other characters that his lofty ideals are worth it, and are just as relevant as they have ever been

But it's not all about Picard, there are many other players bouncing around, each with their own stories that are actually allowed to develop and flesh out their characters to varying effect. I found Raffi's arc of her family being destroyed by her conspiracy obsession to be a shadow of Picard's own journey. No-one took her seriously so she retreated into a bottle just as Picard retreated into old age. Seven of Nine and Hugh equally relate to Picard in their ex-borg status, each coping with it in a different way, Seven with righteous violence and Hugh with compassion and healing. Both are spiritually related to Picard as he sees himself in them as they see themselves in him, drawing strength from each other.

Reos was definitely the smouldering heartthrob of the story, catching the eye of shy Agnes rather too easily. To be honest I preferred his holograms whose various accents and personalities served to show that the actor could act and wasn't there simply for the ladies. As for Agnes herself, she is a genius but also a coward who does something horrible for reasons I can't get my head around and then regrets it later. The actor struggles with this, but she is good enough to keep going and make Agnes accessible by equally making her afraid but also capable of overcoming that fear through force of will.

There is Elnor whose initial resentment of Picard is born of love and he is both an innocent and killer in equal measure, vulnerable, strong and noble without really knowing what nobility is. Then there is Soji, whose existence drives the plot but exists as more than simply a mcguffin. She gets to fall in love, be betrayed, lose her identity and then find a new sense of self and a father figure in Picard. It's a quick progression but I would say the actor pulls it off so the audience can identify with her resentment and then her change of heart as Picard's actions allow her to trust again.

So there you go, lots to see and think about without me even going into the racist fears of the main antagonists or the return of TNG alumni. I enjoyed it also for the fact that it is an ongoing story, development stays developed and doesn't just reset to zero like the next episode of TNG. These are real evolving people and they play off each other very well. Looking forward to season 2.

Tuesday 14 April 2020

Downward To The Earth by Robert Silverberg - A Forgotten Classic?

I recently reread 'Downward To The Earth' by Robert Silverberg and was amazed how vague and insubstantial my original memories of reading it were. I suppose it must be coming up to two decades since, but I did have it in my head it was one of his better books and I think I was right.

You see, I've read a large number of his 'classic' novels like 'The Man in The Maze', 'Nightwings', 'The Book of Skulls' and 'Dying Inside' as well as an aborted attempt at 'Lord Valentine's Castle'. But I have to say 'Downward To The Earth' is the one that stayed with me, if not in detail, then in a stamp in my brain.

What is it about? well, it's about a man called Ed Gunderson returning to the planet Belzagor where he used to work on as an administrator years ago when it was occupied by humankind. As a colonial planet, it was relinquished to the sentient natives with a few humans staying behind and a rundown hotel in place for a few visiting tourists.

Ed has a certain amount of guilt in his system as to how he treated the native 'first' species, the Nildoror, a triple tusked elephant analogue who have their own language and culture, albeit a culture very alien to our own. They don't build cities, they don't read or write or have any interest in technology and they are not shy in eating loudly and savagely or even copulating in front of visiting humans. Initially Ed has told himself he was guilty of regarding them as intelligent animals and wants to address that, however when he has a drunken argument with an old colleague he is surprised and ashamed to discover that deep down his views haven't changed and his prejudices remain.

He begins a journey or pilgrimage with a group of Nildoror to attend what they call 'rebirth'. He slowly becomes close to his dedicated mount, Srin'gahar who fences with him about Earth's native elephants and the question of whether they have a soul and should not be treated like 'animals'. Ed has no proof and cannot defeat the Nildoror's argument but equally cannot attest elephants have souls either. The Nildoror and the second species Sulidoror, (A clawed, hairy biped analogue) are the only creatures on the planet that attest to having a soul. As such the vegetarian Nildoror are quite happy to let the Sulidoror hunt animals and eat their meat and even have their own ritual of sin purification that involved killing animals. While Ed initially believes the Nildoror are too noble to 'lower' themselves to killing, he realises he is wrong, and he is ascribing some sort of higher human values to them that don't apply.

As his journey continues Ed meets other humans, two that are dying after being invaded by some sort of parasite, the whole process seeming to be about them becoming part of the planet. Another human, Kurtz, has undergone the Nildoror rebirth himself and become grotesquely disfigured and mentally damaged. There is this sense that the book is about the process of yielding to the planet, to the alien until it is not alien, to giving up being human in the search for something, if not better, then different. Ed comes to understand himself, and the Nildoror as well as discovering the secret of rebirth and how the Nildoror transform into Sulidoror and vice versa, enjoying near immortality.

In the end Ed undergoes his own rebirth, and understands that rebirth allows him to share a connection with others. None that are reborn are alone, they are linked through a psychic connection that allows them to grow and understand themselves and each other.

So what do I think? The book has aged remarkably well considering it was published in 1970, staying away from scientific concepts that might have dated it. There are no screens, or data transfers, or gadgets, there is only the progressive travel through a beautiful changing landscape. There is also the concept of someone seeking enlightenment, of being open to new ideas and accepting of their own faults and failures in an effort to overcome them. That in itself is quite uplifting, Ed is not a bad man but he has made mistakes and he wishes to atone for them.

Some minor issues with how women are portrayed. There is only one female character, Seena, and of course she is beautiful and willing to sleep with the main character very quickly even after an eight years absence and the fact that she seems to be married to two other men at the same time. It is fair to say that Seena is not as well developed as perhaps she could be, and serves the purpose of reminding the reader that Ed is a real man with a man's needs.

All in all I enjoyed the book, and enjoyed the idea of an alien culture that challenges my concept of what my culture is all about and what it really means. Perhaps in another decade I will read 'Downward To The Earth' and get something new from it again.

Friday 13 March 2020

Recent Science Fiction Book Reviews

Here are some of the more recent books I've read which I've actually liked and managed to get past the first chapter. That does seem to be my problem nowadays, that if I don't like a book then I tend to stop reading. Below are some of the books that have managed to defeat my legendary short attention span. Obviously this doesn't mean the books that haven't are awful, (and it wouldn't be fair to judge them on the first chapter anyway) but that simply I've got to the point where I know what I like and don't force myself to read what I don't.

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

A Complex Tapestry Of A Story, Beautifully Realised
A complex story, the lead character's experiences recounted from various points in his history told in parallel. As the narrative unfolds events happen in careful and detailed increments including psychic powers related to alien microbes, love, desire, and a deadly mystery that requires solving. By the end of the book I'm not sure the mystery is solved, but as there are two more books to go, I imagine the mystery will only deepen before an answer is forthcoming. This book is an experience, so go ahead, experience it.

Planetfall by Emma Newman

City At The Edge Of The World

It's a book about pain, grief, lies, cowardice and self acceptance. A terrible wrong that cannot be taken back. The writing pulls you in as you slowly get to know the narrator and understand the depths of their love and suffering that leads to a surprise ending I won't ruin here.

Beneath The World, a Sea by Chris Beckett

What Lies Beneath? 

For the 'good' policeman Ben Ronson, tasked with an impossible job in a jungle environment like nothing else on Earth, all his self-editing, his need to be a paragon of officialdom, is peeled away layer by layer by the mind bending effects of the almost alien environment and its human and non human inhabitants.

It's a slow burn and I'm still thinking about it, to be honest. But I always enjoy the ones that make me think the most.

Sea Of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

War Of The AI's

There is this idea that the singularity will create a perfect world because the machines will do a much better job of running it than we ever can. Not so with 'Sea Of Rust' because the machines inherit all that is good and bad from humanity in a desperate war for the survival of the individual. There is love, hate, regret but most of all desperate people (albeit robots) doing desperate thing just so they can keep hanging onto life by their (figuratively speaking) fingernails. Compulsive reading from beginning to end, it will definitely not be the same in a hundred years time.