Showing posts with label Philip Reeve. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Philip Reeve. Show all posts

Friday, March 1, 2019

Black Light Express by Philip Reeve

Rating: WORTHY!

This is volume two of a trilogy and has a very cool title, I thought. It sounds like the kind of title William Gibson would use. Maybe that's how Gibson makes his money these days in an era of him being much less relevant than he used to be? Maybe he cooks up cool titles and sells them to other authors? LOL!

But I digress. I'm not a series person as anyone who has followed my reviews will know. Apart from my The Little Rattuses&trade children's series I'm in the middle of, I will never write one myself. As to reading them, I'm not steadfastly against it, but I've encountered very few that were worth all the volumes. To me, series too often represent laziness and a lack of imagination on the part of the author.

This one was a rare surprise in that the story was, in a sense, very much completed in volume one, but there was an organic option available for the next episode, so it felt very natural to me. On top of that, volume one was really good and I enjoyed it. The ending was reminiscent of the first volume of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials." In that case and this one, the ending/opening for volume two were strikingly similar.

Volume two began engagingly, although I ran into an issue that bothered me and got me thinking, which is always dangerous! In volume one, the main antagonist, Raven, had orchestrated a scheme to get the main protagonist, Zen Starling, infiltrated into the Noon family by having him pose as a distant relative. In order to do this, he had to sequester that relative, and he employed a young girl to do it. She got caught afterwards and sent to jail.

On this world, crimes are punished by the perp being frozen for a period of time. Quite frankly, I'm not sure how that exactly is a punishment or what it's supposed to achieve, but that's the way it is. I guess if you're put into it for a decade, as she was the first time she was caught, it changes things because fashions change and friends grow older or die, so she comes out feeling literally out of things and having no friends. The world has moved on without her. Maybe that's the real punishment rather than the actual cryo-sleep, but for short sentences, zero degrees makes zero sense.

So this brings us to where the author describes this girl being taken out of her cryo-sleep prematurely. She's a repeat offender, so despite Chandni having been alive for 96 years, she's actually only nineteen years old, physically speaking. Apparently when they put people into the freezer, they shave their head and tattoo a prison number on it. Why, I do not know - it's not explained here. So we have the author describing her coming out of sleep, and he says, "She would have been quite pretty if they hadn't shaved her head." That struck me as a mean thing to say. If the author had had a character say that, then that would have been one thing. People can be mean and thoughtless, but for the author himself to make such a declaration is mean in itself.

There are women who have no hair because of a medical condition, or because of, to mention a well-known example, a cancer treatment regimen. To describe a shaved head of itself as not pretty isn't fair at all. Personally I don't think it makes a woman look less than she did before. I like hair, but I don't find it lessens a woman's attractiveness any more than it lessens a man's purely because they're missing hair for whatever reason. It can often enhance it in my opinion. Just google Budz McKenzie, or Sharon Blynn, or Marielle McKenna, or Rae Ann Reyna or a host of others. It's one thing to write that "she didn't look pretty, but then she never had, even with hair," but to hang it all on her hair (so to speak!), or lack of it, felt like very ill-advised writing, to me.

Anyway, I read on hoping there wouldn't be any more of that nonsense, and while the book took a brief dip into boring me, during which I wondered if I was going to finish this or DNF it, it very quickly turned things around by going off in an unexpected direction which (while in some ways predictable) definitely stirred things up significantly, so I was back onboard. And it avoided more faux pas, so I ended up happy with it and I'm looking for volume 3 next! I commend this one as a worthy read.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

Rating: WORTHY!

Back when the movie was out - a movie I enjoyed, but which failed at the box office in December 2018 (it made only 80% of its production budget) - you could not find this book at the library at all (they were all checked out), but recently when I went in there to look for the sequel to Philip Reeve's Railhead (which was not to be had!) Mortal Engines was sitting right there - a modest paperback, so I grabbed it. And I loved it despite its three-hundred-page reading length.

The movie follows the book closely to begin with, but then increasingly departs from it. I can see why it does, but it occurs to me that if it had followed the book more closely, it would have done better than it did. The book was beautifully done and doesn't shy away from depicting hard truth and gritty reality. Hollywood not so much, and so it's sad world when a movie makes eighty million dollars, and is still considered a failure, isn't it?!

So briefly, the story is of a future, but rather steampunk world, that when analyzed makes little sense. Cities are no longer places you go to, they're places that come after you in what's repeatedly referred to as Municipal Darwinism. It's a city-eat-city world, and this is how the cities are powered and grow: by traveling the land, hunting and wrecking other cities, absorbing their populations, and recycling their raw materials as fuel and building supplies.

The biggest problem for me was the energy requirement. I'm not saying you couldn't build something that huge and have it move, but the power required to move it would be exorbitant, and where would it come from?

This story isn't set a hundred years hence, but several thousand, after a disastrous global war. Even if society could rebuild itself and take its cities mobile, the fuel (you name it: natural gas, coal, oil) would have long run out by that time, so what are they running the cities on? It's never actually discussed, only vaguely alluded to!

We're running out of oil now, something the gas-guzzling USA, with its car manufacturers ditching decent-mileage passenger cars for poor mileage SUVs and trucks while the rest of the world wisely looks to renewables. This is touched on in the story, with the USA described as an abandoned wasteland.

The story focuses on Hester Shaw, a badly-scarred young woman (the movie beautifies her giving her only a scar. She is much more disfigured in the novel), and on Tom Natsworthy, a third class historian trainee who lives in London. Hester is in a smaller village and purposefully, it turns out.

The village is absorbed by London, bringing Hester into contact with her quarry - a man named Valentine, beloved in London, but who murdered her mother. She almost manages to kill him, and then escapes by jumping into the waste chute when pursued by Tom. Inexplicably, Valentine pushes Tom down there after her, because he thinks he knows too much. I did not get that part at all - in the movie or the novel.

Tom loves London and is in denial. He forms a very uneasy relationship with Hester and each grows, over an extended time, to respect and then love the other. They have multiple adventures - more-so than in the movie - being captured twice, the second time by pirates.

The ending was very different from the movie and was amazing. I heartily commend this novel as a worthy read. There are three sequels, but I'm not sure I want to read those because I fear the first will be sullied by reading any more!

Why authors feel this need to squeeze the life out of their inventions by forcing them into ritualistic trope-filled sequels escapes me. I know it's very lucrative for publishers and authors if they can get a good pot of serial novels like this boiling, but to me it's lazy and avaricious - and abusive of readers, so I think I'll stop at this one. I had a different experience with Railhead, where I do plan on reading the next volume. Hopefully that will not become something I regret doing! LOL!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Railhead by Philip Reeve

Rating: WORTHY!

Having DNF'd a younger children's novel by Reeve, I'm happy to report a worthy commendation on this one, aimed at a young adult audience and the first of a trilogy. I'm not a fan of the inevitable YA trilogy or the series, for the most part. I refuse to write them myself; they smack of lazy writing and avarice, dragging a one-volume story out over three.

I blame authors, readers, and publishers equally for this rip-off, but this particular one caught my imagination because it tells an honest story and doesn't pad it. I am intent upon reading the next volume which is a rarity for me. However, once again it failed to reveal on the cover that it was the first volume in a series. Fortunately on this occasion I knew it was, so it did not piss me off with the cliff-hanger ending.

I saw a review in The Guardian which compared this novel to other works of sci-fi, but to me it is most comparable to the His dark Materials trilogy by another Philip - and this one a Sir Philip Pullman. The way this is told and the way int ends - about to enter a new world, very much reminded me of The golden Compass and the ending to that.

This one is more hardcore sci-fi though. The protagonist, Zen Starling is a shoplifter and pick-pocket from the end of the line world called Cleave which is like the wrong side of the tracks, and rail metaphors are apropos here because the way one gets form one world to another is be sentient trains (and Reeve takes great delight in describing them!) which can traverse special tunnels which link one planet in the system to another which will be many light years away through normal space.

The story hits the ground running with Zen running after stealing a necklace. There is a drone following him but he manages to shake it - so he thinks, and gets back to Cleave, but the girl who knew his name and tried to waylay him in the street shows up in Cleave and he's on the run again. He's picked up by the Railforce - the interplanetary police - but after escaping them when their armored train is wrecked, he ends up with arch-villain Raven, who seems to have a personal vendetta against the ruling emperor family which goes by the name of Noon.

It turns out that Zen is related to the Noons and as such, he can board their special train, wherein lies an artifact which Raven wants Starling to steal for him. This seems to go well at first and then all hell breaks loose, and things are complicated by the fact that Zen, against his better nature since androids (and gynoids!) are detested in Cleave, finds himself falling for Nova - Raven's Moto - and the girl who tried to help Zen after the necklace theft.

There is much more to the story than this, including the mysterious guardians that Raven has tangled with in the past, and the strange, ethereal 'angels' which often appear over the track when a train comes out of a transition tunnel known here as a K-Gate. I enjoyed the story immensely and look forward to volume two, hoping it has the same power of engagement and drive that this one had.

Carnival in a Fix by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre

Rating: WARTY!

This is the first Philip Reeve book I've read that I did not consider a worthy read. Note that its not aimed at me, but at a much younger audience, and for them it may well be good, but there were too many cliches and tropes here for my taste and even for a children's book I can't condone that kind of lazy writing.

Whether it would be discernible to its intended audience, I don't know, but it was blatantly obvious from he start what was going on here. Emily lives at an interplanetary unfair situated on a moon somewhere, and visited by aliens of all stripes (and dots and heliotrope!). On the day the story starts, she bids goodbye to her parental units - an odd couple - only to discover that a unfair inspector has arrived and is a nasty piece of work. She sets off to inform her guardians.

What's obvious is that this is no fun-fair inspector. He's an unfair inspector - some dude who is sabotaging the fair by use of little spiky spidery type critters while pretending to fail everything because of poor maintenance and so on. No one sees this, or even suspects it. This tells me that everyone at the fair, and in particular Emily, is really rather stupid. I do not appreciate stories about stupid people (unless the author is planning on taking it somewhere interesting) and especially not about stupid female characters.

My other problem with this was the aliens. Like far too many sci-fi stories, the aliens were caricatures. And yes, it's a kids book, but multiple eyes on stalks? If only sci-fi authors had paid attention during the evolution module in school they would come up with far more engaging aliens. Most of this is on McIntyre since she was the artist, but the author doubtlessly could have nixed these drawings had he wanted.

That wasn't the biggest problem though. That problem was Emily. She was purportedly alien (there's no word about where she came from or how she ended up there) but she looks exactly like a human - except for a tail tacked on to her. It would have been nice had Emily been shown as alien, so kids understand there are interesting stories to be told about people who are not like the reader.

So all told, I DNF'd this and cannot commend it as a worthy read.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre

Rating: WORTHY!

I came into this series rather ass-backwards, reading the second volume (Cakes in Space) first, then the third (Pugs of the Frozen North), and finally coming back to the first. I found the titles hilarious. It doesn't really matter where you start as it happens, since they're not really sequential or even about the same people. All three have been enjoyable although they're aimed at a much younger audience than I represent.

This one was about this little kid named Oliver, which is becoming a quite popular name choice in the USA over the last couple of years - unlike Sarah, which recently dropped out of the top 100 for the first time since records began.

As it happens, the art for this novel is by a Sarah - McIntyre. She's definitely not unpopular! Oliver has explorers for parents, and he's not happy endlessly wandering the world. To his relief, the parents have finally explored everything, and are moving back to their family home on the coast. Oliver is thrilled.

The thrill evaporates rapidly as his parents are more interested in the islands off the coast - which were not there when they were last at home, than they are in moving things into their house. Poor Oliver is doing this when he realizes that the inflatable dinghy his parents took is back on shore sans parents, and the islands have all disappeared, save for one of them.

It turns out that the islands are the Rambling Isles - rock people who wander the ocean trying to find items to put on their heads to make an impressive sea wig, with which to win the septennial competition among the Rambling Islands.

Befriending an albatross who lives on this one island - which Oliver names 'Cliff', and a short-sighted mermaid, Oliver sets off, transported by the island, to find his parents. The story is delightfully whimsical and inventive, playful and imaginative, and light hearted, with a pair of all-but mustache-twirling villains thrown in. But you might want to steer clear - not of the Sargasso Sea, but the Sarcastic Sea, where the seaweed will make salty remarks about you.

The author is best known for his Mortal Engines series, which I haven't read (yet!), although I enjoyed the movie (unlike most people it seems!). I loved this story, and want to read more of this series.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Pugs of the Frozen North by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre

Rating: WORTHY!

The Chinese claim that this is the year of the pig (kick-off February 5th, 2019), but I hereby declare it the year of the pug! It's only a vowel away!

How could I, of all people, not want to pick this up and read it with a title like that? I couldn't resist it, and I was rewarded by an inventive and amusing middle-grade story which I have to say bears some resemblance at one point to the Homeric Odyssey Book 9, wherein Odysseus, having been blown about by the wind for over a week, finally makes it to an island. He discovers that the locals feed on the Lotus (which is often taken to be a flower, but more likely referenced the fruit of a tree). This bears a soporific fruit causing them to abandon all aspiration and industry, and from which he must rescue his men.

So in this novel, having become shipwrecked and abandoned, accidentally or otherwise by the crew, cabin boy Shen finds himself alone with sixty-six pugs, all of whom are shivering. Fortunately, the ship was carrying a cargo of small, woolly sweaters, with which Shen outfits each of the pugs, before embarking on an excursion to explore and find help. He comes across a small native village where he meets a girl named Sika, who curiously is in need of dogs to pull her sled in the local sled race to the top of the world, the winner of which has any wish granted.

The two embark upon the race pulled by the pugs and have several adventures, including meeting a large kraken, and being lured into the Yeti Noodle shack where they become prisoners. This is the Lotus-Eater phase. Yes, the noodles are dreamily good - they're made from special snow, so why wouldn't they be? But the imprisonment is to do the chore of washing dishes to pay for the noodles they ate! Of course they escape.

And after another adventure or two they meet the wish-granter. I thought this was great fun. They completely snowed me with it, and I'm going to see if I can get my icy hands on some of the other books Reeve and collaborator McIntyre have created together.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre

Rating: WORTHY!

This was an hilarious middle grade (or lower) illustrated sci-fi chapter book about Astra, the only child of a space-traveling family who were put into cryogenic sleep for the 199 year trip to Nova Mundi, the planet where they will live. Philip Reeve, better known for his Mortal Engines series (the movie for which is due out this year - 2018), does a fine job with the writing, and Sarah McIntyre goes to town on the charming, somewhat sepia-tinted illustrations which literally run riot through the story.

Unfortunately, Astra was a bit peckish before settling down, so she headed off to the dining hall to request that the AI there bake her the most scrumptious cake ever - a cake unequalled. It did exactly as she requested. As passengers slept, it experimented with making cakes and eventually created ravenous cakes - not cakes that you want to eat ravenously, but cakes that will eat you! These cakes begin roaming the spacecraft, and poor ardua ad Astra, who wakes early, has to do battle with them.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the spacecraft is drifting off course and is overtaken by multi-eyed pirates who are seeking to rob it of all its spoons. Yes, spoons. Don't give me that - like you have no idea how valuable spoons truly are. You're fooling no one with your feigned ignorance. Can Astra save the day?! Of course she can. Why even ask such a dumb question? Well, to tell the truth, I'm working on my blurb writing skills and they consistently ask ridiculous questions like that. You have to really disrespect the reader to be a successful blurb writer, and treat them like morons, so how did I do?

But seriously, I thought this book was a joy! Some readers might find it a bit trite or silly, or caked with sugar, but I'm guessing the readership at which this is aimed will love it. I did, and I'm not ashamed to admit it! I commend this as a worthy read, and I promise you it's not half-baked.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Scrivener's Moon by Philip Reeve

Rating: WORTHY!

This is an oddball steampunk novel to which I took an initial liking, and that stayed with me apart from an unfortunate dip in the middle, but overall I consider it a worthy read. It's always nice to find a novel that gets you right from the start. It's read by Sarah Coombes who has a delightful British accent and does a nice range of voices, including a beautiful Scots accent too, but her voicing of male characters is a bit off, and rather grating. Apart from that I really liked it. I'm picky, I admit, so it was nice to have a reader who didn't irritate me.

Note that this is book 3 of a series (the Fever Crumb series) and I haven't read books one and two. Evidently it's also tied to Author Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines series which I haven't read either. I wasn't even aware that there was a series when I picked this audio book up in the library, since the morons in Big Publishing™ seem to have a huge problem with actually putting the book series information on the cover or in the blurb. That said, I was able to get into it without any problem. Obviously I don't know what I'm missing from the first two, if anything, and whether or not that would improve my appreciation of this particular volume, but this one didn't start out like it was one of a continuing series, so perhaps I'm missing nothing.

Normally I skip prologues like the plague since I don't see the point. This book proved my case. The entire three volume set is a prologue to his Mortal engines series! But, it's hard to skip prologues in audio books, since you can't see where they are or be sure that the first thing you listen to actually is a prologue if it's not announced as such, nor can you see where to jump to in order to bypass it arrive at chapter one. So I ended up listening to this prologue, and as expected. it contributed nothing.

The hilarious thing was that this is book three! Were not books one and two the prologue to this volume? If so, why do we need a yet another prologue here in volume three, especially one which contributed zilch to reader information or appreciation?! I think authors put prologues in because they think they have to, or because they're simply pretentious or melodramatic. They just don't get it, so let me offer this newsflash: chapter one is the prologue, you hockey pucks! I've never read a book where I've had to go back and consult the prologue to get an understanding of what's going on in the novel. Not once. I rest my case. Prologues are a delusional waste of time and worse, a waste of trees in print books.

That said, the story itself is nicely done in the steampunk genre with a twist. There was a nice emphasis on engineering, which I like and admire. Where would we be without engineers? And we definitely need more female engineers. Victorian times were a wonderful era for some amazing feats of engineering. People talk of the Pyramids as great engineering efforts, but all those guys did was stack block on top of each other! The Romans were engineers. The Victorians were engineers. Today we have engineers!

This novel however, is not set in Victorian times, which is another reason it's different. This is set in a future where some catastrophe (known melodramatically as The Diminishing) has set back humanity and reduced our numbers catastrophically - an era which could still come down the pipe if we don't take care of climate change, fresh water shortage, and disease. In the novel, all of the technology of today has gone, and we have been set back to the age of steam in a world where populations have splintered, barbarian tribes threaten England, and an ice age seems to be encroaching more and more territory. How things became so bad that we reverted to a steam age is not explained in this volume. I don't know if the earlier volumes offer more details.

Mammoths, for reasons unspecified, seem to have been brought back from extinction big time, although they're really just bystanders in this volume, so I did't get the point. There are actually three projects attempting to achieve this in real life as it happens, though. The entire mammoth genome (at least for one species of mammoth) has been recreated, but that was the easy part. Getting a healthy and viable fetus from a genome is something only nature has perfected, and even it has problems at times. Human science is far behind, so while we will probably see a mammoth again, it's going to be a while. Given how scientific knowledge and technology have been so completely lost, Reeve fails (at least in this volume) to explain how it was that the mammoth genome was not only preserved, but the technology to recreate it also survived whatever disaster befell humanity. Maybe they had been created before the disaster fell.

These threatening circumstances are the reason an engineer has decided to put London on wheels - yes, the entire city - so it can move around on tank tracks, to keep it safe from encroaching ice and barbarian raids. Absurd, but where would we be without fiction like that to set us back on our heels and amaze and intrigue us? Talking of which, in this world there are three intriguing females. Wavy, who is a mystery, her daughter Fever Crumb, who is an engineer, and Cluny Morvish, a woman is who very much Fever's equal, but who is on the opposite side of a brewing war. Fever and her mom are of the scrivener bloodline, but it's unclear exactly what that is. Again, this may have been covered in earlier volumes, but it was unexplained here.

In addition to these is Charley Shallow, the designated mustache-twirling villain although he is clean-shaven. I found him uninteresting (right through to the end, as it happens, and quickly took to skipping tracks on which he appeared. At the end, I didn't feel like I had missed a thing.

The story kicks into gear - brass gear no doubt - when information comes to Wavy about a mysterious pyramid in the frozen north - one which has a reputation both for being haunted and for being impregnable. The information is that a crack has opened up in it. Wavy and her daughter head north on a land ship to investigate.

For me, this is where the story went south, paradoxically. This is a quest story in many ways, and the goal is this pyramid, but when Fever and Her mom get to it (and meet up with Cluny on the way) Reeve expends a pitiful few pages on the thing, reveals virtually nothing about it, and then it's destroyed. I didn't get that at all. What was the point? Well the point was that i was ready to give up on the nbvoel after that, and the only thing which kept me reaidng was Cluny and Fever's interactions, wihc far form being instadore were relaistic and captivating. These two were os much alike in ways it would spoil the sotry to relate, but they were laso on opposite sides, and the frictiona dn tension between them was palpable.

To me they were really the only thing worth reading about in this book, and it was far too little, but what there was, was pure gold, particularly the ending sequence, which is why I finally decided I could rate this novel as a worthy read. I noticed that some reviewers had described this relationship as insta-love (or instadore as I term it since no actual love is ever involved in these relationships, especially when written by female authors of young adult paranormal stories. Those reviewers missed the point.

Cluny and Fever had significant ties which went outside the normal range of interaction and which for me explained their attraction to and fascination with one another. One was something which happened to each of them in their respective childhoods. Another was their isolation from real family and friends. Another was their being so alike yet on opposite sides. Another was their desire to see justice. Another was that each in turn was the captive of the other and was rescued by the other from imminent death. I don't see how they could not have been drawn together and bonded.

So overall, I recommend this and while some of it was boring to me, it's well-worth reading for the relationship.