The Perpetual To Read Pile (As it never ends, not because I'm Perp!)

hitmouse

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Welcome to another rip-roaring adventure to the pen of Edgar Rice-Burroughs.

Ten years have past since John Carter was on Mars, but once again he is called back to the red planet, and this time it is indicated that his return is going to be permanent. Instead of arriving in the North where he built his reputation he has returned to the South, and is shown another side of life on the planet.

There are some stunning ideas on show here, the society of Mars how there are different cultures and subcultures, how people have different ideas and beliefs as to how the world works, and how certain aspects of life are different from other people.

It also has to be noted that Burroughs does not shy away from disturbing ideas. Some of the characters, most notably the First Men are cannibalistic, quite happy to eat the flesh of different races, that they see as lesser creatures. I am sure there could be an argument made that as the First Men are Black skinned there is an element of racism at play, but there is also an element of respect given to the First Ones. They are describes as beautiful, almost beyond compare, almost more intelligent than the other races, brave and ferocious fighters. Much like all the different coloured races of Mars they have their strong points and weak. At their heart there is their queen, considered god Issus. She is a magnificent creation, truly twisted and despicable a worthy opponent.

As with the first book, the society that Burroughs has created is deep, well crafted and filled with good ideas. His understanding of Mars is surprisingly accurate, especially for the time it was written. (Well apart for the whole life on Mars thing... but the imagination with which he makes this possible is still astounding.)

On the downside, for me the problem this time is John Carter himself. Some of the things that were set up in the first novel are carried through here, he is stronger because of the lower gravity, he can leap great distances. But somehow in this book it goes too far, he is beyond compare now. He seems to find a solution for everything, to be good at everything he tries, to be the best of the best. All the women swoon over him and want to belong to him, all the men are happy to follow him as though he is the second coming (which he is, I suppose, and his initials fit.)

Burroughs also goes out of his way to keep Carter and his one true love, Dejah Thoris apart. Apart from a few brief moments they are apart at the end of the novel.

Of course it needs to be said that the story was originally published in parts as a serial, so there is probably a carry over from that.

In all fun, with some superb set-pieces, but it waivers slightly.
This is a brilliant piece if pulp, with the usual caveats around erb's casual use of racial clichees. I think it is the second in the original trilogy, so check out The Warlord of Mars for the denoument.
 
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Perpetual Man

Tim James
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This is the second book by Sanderson to feature his character Legion and it is slightly longer than the first, but still a short read. The principle of the story is that the main character features from some form of multiple personality disorder. To try and keep it simple (although it is hinted that there might be more to it than this), in order to deal with his genius level intellect he has delivered a number of characters that inhabit his conscious imagination. Various aspects of his intelligence are attributed to each character and when he needs to draw on that area he speaks to the character.

There are some drawbacks to the way this works, perhaps the most fun is, that in order for it to work, he has to believe in the characters. They are there with him, but no one else can see them. He has to leave provision for them though, so his house has many room for each of the characters, who live an existence when he is not using them! If any come to dinner with him, spaces have to be reserved at a table, food ordered.

It has left him the reputation as an eccentric (to say the least), but being as rich as he is he can exist quite comfortably, acting as a private investigator type when a case piques his curiosity.

In Skin Deep he is asked to investigate the death of a scientist, part of a group exploring new ways of storing data. In this instance the fascinating conjecture is the ability to splice data into redundant strands of DNA, effectively making the body a walking hardrive of impossibly large capacity.

As is normally the case with Sanderson the book is imminently readable, the ideas interesting and remarkably thought-provoking. However once again the implausibility of the main character works against it. All the possibilities of the extra characters seems a bit much to accept, although I guess the idea in itself is an interesting one. It works a little better than in the first novel simply because there are hints and ideas thrown in that there might be more to the extraneous personalities than has been shown before.

Again, the basic premise is familiar, sharing a lot of similarities with the Marvel character of the same name, a character that is getting more exposure thanks to the amazingly twisted TV show. And both TV version of the character and the comic version work better than this one.
 

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Tim James
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And so the first trilogy by writer Jo Zebedee comes to an end.

Everything is drawn back to the planet Abendau, where the Empress is re-establishing her powerbase, the future is thrown into doubt. Will the political reforms instigated by Kare stick as a newly found freedom and democracy start to become a reality, or will the tyrannical rule of a psychically gifted and manipulative woman once more become reality?

There is more to the novel than that, there is a genuine feel of family, albeit a discordant one as the main family unit, Kare, his wife Sonly and the two children all find themselves at odd for different reasons. An affair here, an imbedded desire to kill Kare there, the desire to be more than we are too soon another.

It all feeds into the plot giving a twisting, turning read that is a lot of fun and actually delivers a satisfying conclusion – something that escapes some series.

The characters are well developed and come off the page. They all feel different and like real people and you can love and loathe them as much as you need to. They make mistakes, try to write wrongs, hurt and bleed making you sympathise with, get angry with them. The use of the media, being intrusive into high profile public people is excellently done.

Some of the ideas work even better, there is a fascinating world, that comes across as a bit like Endor during the day. However, at night there are no friendly (or annoying) Ewoks, rather sprites than are quite happy to devour a human over the dark hours. The best run of chapters sees Lichio (best character in the series) trapped over-night facing the impossibility of survival. Gripping stuff.

If anything, the novel is not quite as visceral as its predecessors, especially the first book, but it certainly has its moments.

For me, the one thing that worked against it (slightly) was the world of Abendau itself. A desert world, where water is a commodity… there are similarities throughout that are slightly reminiscent of Dune, from the environment, the peoples who struggle to live there, perhaps even to the overthrow of an Empire, with the backdrop of bickering noble houses.

This is a small quibble, and there is more than enough to separate the two books, and it should not detract too much from this being a rollicking good adventure and well worth a read.
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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Tarzan is back! See as the noble savage tries to fit into society. Let your heart break as he turns his back on love! Look on as all the beautiful ladies swoon over him! Thrill as he becomes embroiled in espionage and despicable doings! Follow him as he becomes a spy for the French! See his exploits in the Middle East! Feel the pain as his savage upbringing wars with civilisation! Enjoy his return to the jungle! Face the mysteries of the gold ridden city of Opar! Revel in the conclusion where everything is wrapped up!

Originally published in serialised form, this is still a book of the early days of Tarzan, not quite the iconic figure of today following his saturation in film and popular culture and it shows.

There is the feeling that Burroughs might have written this simply because a sequel was demanded, rather than because he wanted to and I suppose there should be some credit given to the fact that he simply did not tread water and repeat what had gone before.

In some ways the strengths of the novel are in the first half when Tarzan, using the name Jean is living in France. Perhaps it was just me, but there is the feel of a proto James Bond at work, something that I would never really have associated with the ape-man, even though I read these book many years ago, it did not occur to me then.

He is part of a more privileged society, although at this point he is not one of the nobility himself. The appearance given of a man larger than life, dressed in the finery of the day, with a cold, lethal edge are enough to draw the comparison, but when he finds a purpose and employment working as an investigator for the French government, he could well be Bond of the jungle.

The book is fast moving, and in places could probably have worked even better with more depth, but then that is the nature of serialised fiction. As are cliffhanger endings between parts to keep the reader coming back. It is almost part of the fun reading the book to spot where these endings would have been, in some places not to hard because of the sudden end of a chapter with an improbable happening.

The book is most definitely a product of its time and some of the language and views expressed feel outdated and almost uncomfortable in this modern politically correct society. I still get the impression that Burroughs might have been quite enlightened for his time, his descriptions of natives in Africa is often complimentary, although sometimes it is more fitting with a different worldview.

There is the ongoing problem (for me) of Tarzan being just a little bit too perfect for the role, to the extent that he comes across as a proto-superhero with his skills, and constant rescuing of ladies in distress. In fact, nothing comes out of this more outdated than the women, who seem to be beautiful, ready to swoon in the presence of the ape-man and do indeed need to be rescued.

I think the weakest part of the book is the coincidence that is a problem from the very beginning of the story. As an example, when the various parties arrive in Africa, their survival is improbable, they are all close together but unaware of each other, not only that but they are in the precise place where Tarzan was born… and there is a lot more than that.

A fun read all the same, even if it is all wrapped up in a nice bow. Tarzan is at last revealed as Lord Greystoke, he and Jane are together and all is well. It could well be a fitting end to the series.

What do you mean there are thirty more books to go?
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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I have never really been the biggest of fans of short stories, but that being said I do seem to enjoy horror ones more than most other genres.

The collection of tales under the title Neverlight, judging from the cover and the blurb made me feel as though I was going to be stumbling into some Lovecraftian/Clive Barker type hellhole. For me at least, I felt that I was more than a little misled. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as instead of the over the top gore/monster feel, this struck me more of the M R James or Lawrence Gordon Clark; something a lot subtler. The kind of tale that seems quite light when you are reading it, but then sticks with you afterwards, coiling around your memory, and growing over time until it almost haunts you.

Weatherer does have a talent for the tales that he is telling. I quite often find that I want to give up after a short story, but here I wanted to carry on. It was probably made easier by the fact that there were no longer stories, rather short, concise tales that tell the stories with no needless baggage.

These are interspersed with pieces of flash fiction, the hit and run side of writing. Very few words coupled to tell a story that can be very effective.

Not one of the stories stopped me in my tracks, all of them working and keeping me reading in their own right.
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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This is not my normal type of book, which is probably why I enjoyed it as much as I did. Change, as they say, is as good as a rest.

If I may take a moment to say, and it is not often that I like to fall into this pit, after all you cannot judge a book by the cover, the cover does pay a large part in whether a book should be read or not. And this cover does both the book and author a disservice.

As far as the art goes, it is a beautiful piece, but it recalls the covers that smothered Mills & Boon and Barbara Cartland novels, the demure woman caught in the strong arms of her lover…
The Beguiler is so much more than that – it deserves that recognition from the get go, from that first thing that a potential reader sees so it draws them in…

To me this was an original fantasy novel, with intriguing characters, unique magic system and a familiar, different setting. Although I would hesitate to make this a definitive comparison, I would say that the story has a lot more to Austen’s seminal Pride and Prejudice than to torrid romance novels.

The story follows its heroine, Rebecca as she is thrown into an unexpected existence. She lives in a world where witches are seen as evil things, to be reviled, hunted down and killed for the titillation of the masses. Reminiscent perhaps, of puritan times, with some witchhunters thrown in, but something that is underlined when her close friend is caught and hung, before her already despicable brother deliberately lets the cat out of the bag. It seems that Rebecca is a witch and suddenly she is on the run for her life.

While on the run she meets Lord Tarndel, a stuck up self-important type, cold and distant, who is not only a romantic foil for Rebecca, but also opens the lid on Witches and what goes on when they are hunted and hung… this is the point where the ideas really begin to coalesce and we see that there is a lot more going on than just romance.

The witches have different powers, Rebecca it seems, is a Beguiler, someone who has the ability to influence the feelings of others and as she becomes a victim of another beguiler, then begins to learn how to use her powers grows into something quite special.

The characters are well drawn and for me those I did not like was because they came across as genuinely nasty or narrowminded people. You wanted the main characters to thrive and find a way through the mess that their lives have become and the world in general. It was easy to get frustrated with them because they were doing what they thought was for the best, without taking the time to see things from other perspectives. That speaks or real people to me.

So, plenty of good ideas, great characters, some nice ideas and plot twists. If I was going to pick a fault with it (other than the cover) it would be the romance between Rebecca and Tarndel was too drawn out, too obvious, but this is only s minor niggle, something that is probably more to do with me than the text.

Well worth a read!
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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A long time ago an online friend mentioned that there was a book worth reading by a new author. As the author was at the time a member of the same forum it seemed that a good idea to take the recommendation and I read Prince of Thorns. Along the way there were plenty of fun conversations and it was a boon being able to go to the source himself, Mark Lawrence.

I mention this because since then Lawrence has gone on with his writing career, proving that all the potential spoken about at the time was no flash in the pan, his books go from strength to strength and he is being recognised as one of the big fantasy writers, with a number of series behind him, while I… have only just read Emperor of Thorns, something I bought 5 years ago, on the day it came out.

The tale of Jorg of Ancrath picks up and heads towards it’s conclusion, proving that it is just as brutal, cringeworthy and shocking as its two predecessors, if not more so.
Jorg seems a lot older, more world-weary and it’s a shock to realise how young he actually is. It is a solid reflection of the world he has grown up in. In many societies he would still be a young man, footloose and fancy free, here he is a grizzled, scarred veteran, who has clawed himself into a position of power and is capable of wielding it like a weapon. By his very nature, Jorg is not a nice person. His solution to problems is often the most brutal and direct, expediency over compassion, but at the same time although the decisions he makes are harsh, it seems his ultimate goal is for the greater good.

With the big revelation about the land in which the characters live now firmly out of the way, it loses part of the mystery, something that is easily replaced by the fun the reader has in trying to work out what the names would have been before the fires burned the world.

The story itself is told in two times, the ‘current’ story, that sees Jorg making his way across the land with his retinue, being joined by the other rulers of the various kingdoms, as they go to elect (or not elect) an Emperor to rule over them all. The dead king is gathering his forces and preparing to invade and make himself a power in the living realm, his identity becoming more and more important as we close on the climax.

At the same time we get to see more of this twisted world, as we follow Jorg’s earlier journeys in flashback, secrets being revealed and pieces put in place for the finale.

There is so much grimness on show here, particularly the events at the monastery from Jorg’s youth and the various predations of the dead, things that even the moments of Jorg’s cleverness – which can inspire humour – even the misconception that he might not be that bad. In fact, it is this clever dichotomy that really makes the character and these books work. Jorg is a nasty piece of work, much of what he does is unforgivable, but as in real life, we often do not know what drives people to make the decisions they do, and seeing just glimmers of it are what make Jorg work as a character, you can quite easily condemn him, you can understand him, and despite everything he gives everything, damning himself time and again, but in doing so makes the world a better place.

Is that not the definition of a hero?
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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It’s funny when you reread a book, especially one that you read years (decades ago), even more when it was written in the 1950’s, become part of popular culture and see it with modern eyes.

In 1954 James Bond was a character in a book by Ian Fleming, there had been no movies, Bond was just a fictional character whose first outing in Casino Royale had warranted a follow up, Live and Let Die. My memories of reading this were that it was a good fun read, that it was quite a lot like the film – a film that would not be made for another 20 years, Sean Connery had not even shaken his Martini, let alone Roger Moore.

To me the book seemed that it was fin read and nothing seemed to stick in my head about it – I probably read it about 1980, society, culture has changed a lot since then, even more so since the book being published in 1954 and reading it now was a metaphorical kick to the gut.

The Watts Riots, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King – the whole civil rights movement was in it’s earliest of days, and the events that would make history were waiting to happen.

So, it is hardly surprising that the terminology used throughout the book is enough to jolt the reader, indeed it might have been out of place in 1980, but by today’s standard it is certainly politically incorrect. The term ‘Negro’ is the most common use of description for any person with black skin, and even the other ‘N’ word slips in once or twice. There is a stereotypical feel to some of the lesser characters – although they may well have been depictions of the times, and Harlem is shown as a stronghold of diverse nationals of different race and origin, mostly no-white, who stand out like a sore thumb when they dare enter this place. All the hoodlums are known by street names, and there are gangs everywhere.

Funnily enough, I read this while watching the second series of Marvel’s Luke Cage, and it was quite interesting to see that although there were major changes in the way Harlem is depicted there was a lot that remained familiar as well.

The story should be well known to anyone who has seen the movie. Bond is sent to New York to help the CIA investigate the sudden appearance of gold entering the market – gold that comes from many different countries, but all from a similar period. Has someone found Blackbeard’s treasure? The main culprit seems to be one Mr Big, a powerful crime lord based in Harlem, big in every sense of the world. Is he just a crime boss or is he working for the Russians?

Using voodoo as a method of control Mr Big dominates the gangs of Harlem, running the gold from Jamaica to Harlem, but can it be proved, and can he be stopped. Not only is he ruthless, powerful, he also has the assistance of the beautiful Solitaire, who may just be able to read the future.

Featuring characters returning from Casino Royale, that will become part of Bond lore. It shows the ‘goog’ guys on the back foot, who only just manage to survive by the skin of their teeth and fortuitous timing. It is brutal in places, a rollicking good adventure showing just why Bond would grow to be so much bigger than the written page.

Perhaps though, it must also be consider a historical document a snap shot of a time, portrayed in popular fiction, showing how things have changed, from not just the story but in the way the story is told, down to the diction and attitude.

In a time when a book like Little House on the Prairie can be withdrawn from the American syllabus because of it’s racist attitudes and author’s prejudices, it should be remembered that these are reflections of the times and should be used to teach rather than to be redacted. Are we months away from popular books being re-edited with offensive terms being removed in favour of more modern politically correct terms, rather than making the reader wince and realise this is the way things once were.

If this is the case, Live and Let Die would be a lesser book no longer part of the time from whence it came, but as much a bastardised piece of work as the titular character and we would be a step away from the Firemen coming to burn the freedom of speech at Fahrenheit 451.
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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I suddenly realised while reading this that I had not seen the movie in its entirety.

A rather abstract thought perhaps, but it made a refreshing change to come to one of the Harry Potter books not really knowing what was going to happen.

As with all the HP books, I am reading under intense pressure from various others who are not to be named, and it is not something I would have chosen to do otherwise. The argument made is an obvious one, how can I criticize them novels if I had not actually read them.

I have found the previous books to be… not quite my cup of tea, but this the first of the massive tomes, I actually admit to really quite enjoying it.

Maybe it’s the extra space to flesh things out, maybe it was here that Rowling started finding her feet as a writer, maybe it was that the story was just so much stronger, perhaps she had started to really cut loose and build towards her endgame or it could just be that familiarity is starting to creep in, and spending time with Potter and Co induces a warm and fuzzy feeling.

I feel that Rowling for all her flaws has always been an excellent storyteller, being able to create a world and characters that are immediately likeable and fascinating, and as I am sure I have said before anything that can get a generation of children away from their consoles and reading is more than worth its weight. And boy are these books starting to have some weight.

The story is simple enough, the Tr-Wizard tournament is being reinstigated and three schools are going to be competing for the goblet of fire. Harry and his cohorts are too young to participate, but this does not stop his name being drawn from the Goblet making him the fourth entrant in the tournament.

Of course, just telling us about the three events would be a little boring, so we get all the other incidents going on over the course of a school year, the Quidditch World Cup and the growing threads of Voldemort regaining power and actually taking part in the physical world.

I’m not the biggest fan of Harry, I think he is too much of the goody, goody, put upon self-determined hero, trapped by circumstance and prophecy. No, for me it is the supporting cast of characters that make the book work. Indeed, the more minor the character, the better they are. Mad-Eyed Moody, Professor McGonagall the Weasleys – most especially Mr Weasley keep me reading.

The world is strengthened and deepened, for all its fantastical elements it begins to feel more solid. The ‘silly’ words that Rowling has created start to settle in and become more acceptable to the reading eye, and there is a genuine feeling of encroaching darkness as Voldemort regains his strength.

Of course, if someone was to ask me to name the schoolboy wizard who is the most powerful of his age, wears circular specs and has a pet owl, I’m still going to say without hesitation, Timothy Hunter.
 

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Tim James
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It’s rather an unusual but good thing when you read a modern fantasy novel and it is a series of two books. Everything is over and done with and you do not have to worry about the remaining ten books in the series, or indeed, whether the writer will actually get around to writing them. Not that I want to mention any names.

The first book in this series introduced to the characters, centred around Cassia the daughter of a drunkard, bitter and violent storyteller, how she is swept up in the machinations of Baum and ends up breaking a curse, that allows the twisted evil there to rise again and needs to be stopped…

One of the best parts of the first book was the way it managed to turn everything around by the end of the novel, in many ways providing a good example of how perceptions can be altered over time, histories become distorted by the way they are told, becoming legends and stories. Villains are not what they seem, what you think you know is not always the truth…

So how could Poore follow this up?

Baum is dead, Cassia’s father Norrow is missing, the wizard Mallesar has been rendered virtually impotent and the evil in the North is rising, creeping insidiously across the land destroying all it touches.

Although it is obvious that it has to be stopped the question that still remains is can Poore pull off an ending that works, especially when you consider that what must have been the biggest feat of misdirection has already been done in the first book?

Well, the answer is yes. The author does not attempt to recreate the huge WTF moment again, instead hitting hard and fast with sharp punches. Many of these come in the form of things that come to the fore and are obvious, but like all good storytelling only become so after you are told them.

The twists when they come to do not feel as though they are forced are that they are being squeezed into the story, coming out as natural and organic. There was the thought that we were going to be shown that Norrow was never Cassia’s father, but Poore does not give us that old chestnut, instead his revelations about Cassia’s parentage work, are logical and make perfect sense, indeed taking us back into incidents from the first book, allowing us to see things in a different light. Once again it is perception that is played with, and once one has a little more information, things can be seen as totally different.

Poore offers us a new character in the form of Prince Rais, a potential love interest for Cassia. To start with he seems to come across as a bit of a pretentious fool, but once out from the court of his father and probably being given more freedom than he has had in his life, he improves immeasurably, and becomes the strength that drives Cassia on, even though she resists and rails against it at every opportunity.

The conclusion has to be epic, and Poore delivers. There is no mercy here, characters that become popular are not safe from the darkness that scours the land, and Cassia finds herself fighting not just for her land but for her life, and there is the genuine feeling that she might not win, and even if she does what will be the cost?

Throw in dragons, magic and at least one more twist that wrongfoots the reader one more time, and you have a satisfying conclusion, that leaves the reader with the understanding that life does not always turn out the way one would want it to, but that after the epic events are over, it continues, characters pick up their lives with unfinished business to deal with, finding their way as the world continues to turn
 
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