Book Talk: July 2017

July was a pretty good month overall. I attended AVCon (an annual anime and video game event) where I got to play some retro game consoles. I also assembled a long-desired shrine to pop culture and literature and finish a draft for a new novel I started late last year. Now though my time to relax has ended and I’ve once again returned to uni, but not before being able to read as much as I could. I didn’t read as much as I hoped to have, but I still got to finally read an author I’ve been wanting to do so for a long time. So, with no further delays, let’s begin with this month’s Book Talk.

Novels

 

20170801_160304

The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

One billion years in the future, the Earth we know it as now has changed significantly. Our oceans have dried up and the world has become a massive desert, with only a single city remaining. This city, Diaspar, sits in the middle of this great worldwide desert, standing as the supposed last city of humanity. For all this time, the people of Diaspar live with very long lives, and under the control of the Great Computer. Within all this, Alvin (the protagonist) becomes interested in what could be beyond his city, which when he discovers it is shocking to both him and Diaspar.

First published in 1956, The City and the Stars is my first introduction to Arthur C. Clarke. I’ve had a trouble reading the other big three sci-fi writers (Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov) in the past. I often found their stories to be very long winded and difficult to read. I wasn’t sure on what to think about Clarke because of this, and after reading this story, I’m still uncertain.

First, the negatives. To me, this story was long winded and difficult to read at first, and I was unable to connect much with Alvin. However, as the story progressed, I found myself liking this story more. This is where the positives begin. The adventure Alvin goes on and what he sees, wow, it certainly blew my expectations, and was quite fun too. It’s in here too that I discovered this story is a great dystopian piece and of the manipulation of history too, similar in some ways to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The City and the Stars was my first Arthur C. Clarke story, and it’ll definitely won’t be my last. Yeah, it was long winded to begin with, but from the midway point, it gets really interesting. If you want a dystopian story unlike others you’ve read before then give this a go.

3/5

 

20170801_160323

Water off a Dragon’s Back by KE Fraser

Released in April 2017, this is book two of The Realm of the Lilies series by Adelaide indie author KE Fraser. We once again follow the previous book’s (Through the Fig Tree) protagonists Daniel and Violet as they’re reunited and are now on a quest to establish a new nation.

I’m only halfway through this book as from writing this, so I won’t go into too much detail regarding the plot or my thoughts on it at this moment. I will admit though I’m uncertain on what to say about this book so far. It has so far had more action heavy scenes than the previous entry in the series, but still remains at that same slow pace like the one before. The slow-paced build up worked well in the first book, but not so much in this one. Despite these negative points, it’s still been good, and certainly different to many other contemporary fantasy stories.

I’ll give my full thoughts on this story next Book Talk.  

Short Stories

As always, I will keep my descriptions on short stories brief. This is to prevent any possible spoilers from appearing.

 

20170801_160330

I Am the Doorway by Stephen King

From the Night Shift collection, “I am the Doorway” overall for me was a bit of a mixed bag. I really liked the sci-fi aspect of it and the horrible things that were happening to the protagonist, but I found the writing a little difficult to read. I think this reason was due to the story being one of King’s earlier works, (first published in 1971) which I can forgive it for that. Still, it’s an interesting read, give it a go if you want something a little different.

3/5

20170801_160316.jpg

Hunter of Darkness, Hunter of Light by Michael Pryor

From Australis Imaginarium collection, “Hunter of Darkness, Hunter of Light” was by far one of the strangest stories I’ve read. This story follows Paulie and flicks between his childhood and in an apocalyptic-like future. This story contains many themes related to Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime, and allergies to modern substances, like artificial materials. I found these together very interesting, but I had a lot of trouble reading this piece. I found it difficult to know what exactly what was happening since it flicked between the childhood and adult parts too frequently. A very odd story with many interesting themes, but unfortunately really wasn’t for me.

2.5/5

She Only Needed to See the Teeth by Leslie J. Anderson

From issue 67 of Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, “She Only Needed to See the Teeth” is a very interesting combination of sci-fi with fairy-tale mythology. This is a story set in an apocalyptic near future, where everything links back to Little Red Riding Hood. I found this story to be deeply disturbing with some of the imagery, which I really liked. The writing too was really well done and engaging. A great read, go check it out.

4/5

Book Talk: June 2017

Stress consumed me for the first half of June. This was because all those end of semester assignments loomed around me, as well as a couple of in-class presentations. However, this is now all behind me and I’m now free from uni, until the end of July anyway. With this freedom, I can now get back to what I love doing most: writing, seeing friends, gaming, and most importantly, reading. Short stories ruled this month in my reading, as did the sci-fi and fantasy genres. This month’s is a selection of a wide array of stories, from classics of literature to the recent issue of Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, and by far my most diverse in a little while.

NOVELS

Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

The first novel in The Witcher book series, Blood of Elves follows Geralt of Rivea in his adventures across the Northern Realms. In this story, Geralt is introduced to a girl named Ciri, who he and the others at Kaer Morhen see as their future.

As I said in an earlier Book Talk; I’m a huge fan of The Witcher series. The Wild Hunt is by far my favourite Xbox One game and is what got into reading Sapkowski’s book series. I’m proud to say that this entry has only enhanced my love for this series.

The plot to this story was really good, despite being somewhat slow and not really have a true beginning, middle, and end, in my eyes. I loved all the characters in here, from Geralt and Dandelion to Yennefer and Ciri. The writing style is enjoyable and allows me to get lost in this fantastical world. It took me a lot longer to read this (about 3.5 weeks), but this time doesn’t matter since it’s worth the read.

Blood of Elves is another great entry in The Witcher series. If you’ve read The Last Wish, read this now! If not, start with The Last Wish. This is a fantastic series, one which, I think, stands next to Harry Potter, Narnia, and Lord of the Rings as one of the best the fantasy genre has to offer.

4/5

The War of the Worlds by H.G Wells

Mars is dying, and its inhabitants are looking for a new planet to live on. After a long time of studying, they decide on Earth, launching themselves from large guns in cylinders and crashing down on the planet. The first of these lands in Woking, England, where they emerge and begin their attack.

I find it hard on what to say about The War of the Worlds that hasn’t already been said, but I’ll say this now: it’s the best book I’ve read this year so far! The story is just so exciting and thrilling and has that classic sci-fi feel to it, something I really love. The writing and its overall style are slightly dated, but this is one of those rare examples where that really doesn’t matter, mainly because the plot is timeless. This story is included in the Classic Tales of Science Fiction and Fantasy hardback as you can see in the cover image (a beautiful book by the way). The main character, although unnamed, still felt true and I wanted to see him survive and meet his wife again.

There’s a reason The War of the Worlds is a classic in sci-fi. It took me years to finally understand why that is, and I finally discovered why. A fascinating story, and certainly one for the ages. If you haven’t already, go read this, you won’t regret it.

5/5

SHORT STORIES

As always, I’ll be keeping my thoughts on short stories short to prevent spoilers, and to not keep on going on about them.

Polaroid Land by Edd Vick

Appearing in issue 67 of Andromeda Spaceways Magazine (ASM), ‘Polaroid Land’ is an interesting speculative tale. I thought it was really good and is certainly full of character and emotion and the use of Polaroid photos is done really well. Give it a read and you’ll see what I mean.

3.5/5

Polyp by Danielle Shelton

Bloody, Cronenberg-esque*, and twisted: that’s how I can sum up ‘Polyp’. Also appearing in ASM, this was certainly a standout and one with a hell of a weird plot. I cringed a bit when reading this story, and I think you would too when picking it up.

3.5/5

Ur by Stephen King

A man gets a Kindle and he begins experiencing some weird shit with it. This is all I can say to sum up this Stephen King story from his Bazaar of Bad Dreams collection. I really enjoyed this story, despite its plot feeling a little dated and belongs in the early-mid 2000s (when it was actually originally written). Unlike many other short stories I’ve recently read, this had a true three arc structure with nothing lingering after it. Still, if you haven’t read this yet, go have a check out of it.

3.5/5

The Diamond Lens by Fitz James O’Brien

From my Classic Tales of Science Fiction and Fantasy book, this 1858 tale was certainly unusual for me. This is all to do about a scientist who goes mad during his scientific studies and who is obsessed with his microscope. The plot is timeless and thrilling, but the writing style hasn’t aged too well and confused me a bit while reading it. The ending though, gorgeous as hell and really terrifying, making up for the dated writing. Give this read if you’re interested in classic speculative tales.

3/5

Scandal in Bohemia by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Irene Adler: the woman who got away. This is another great short story from our favourite classic detective Sherlock Holmes, although dated in writing style. Good plot and lovable characters are really all I can say about this piece, go have a read of it now and you’ll see why.

4/5

NOTES

*Cronenberg-esque: A term to describe something  disturbing and gross, similar to creatures from films by Canadian film director David Cronenberg. Examples: Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986).

Book Talk: May 2017

Ahh May, the last month of autumn and the time when we begin to work on our end of semester uni assignments. I’ve had numerous assignments submitted this month for my degree, mainly on the creative side for my digital media classes. This work has resulted in me having a bit of a dry period, writing-wise, which has been tough. Yet, despite the assignments and at the same time booking of a trip to Japan and Hong Kong for later in the year, some reading got done. It’s nowhere as much as I would’ve liked, but it’s still something.

Novels

The Glow by Brooks Stanwood

A couple is looking for a new apartment in New York. The husband finds one through an older couple after he was robbed in Central Park. The couple moves in and suddenly start living much healthier. All this while they begin to notice strange things with their new neighbours, which is connected to some strange things.

This is basically all I can say for the premise of The Glow, a horror novel from Brooks Stanwood. I’ve read some pretty bad books in the past, and this is another to add to that list. I didn’t connect well with the main characters here; I found them to be nothing more than just shallow rich people with no true personalities. The plotting of this story was all over the place and I had some trouble understanding what the hell was going on. To top that all off was the godawful climax. The climax was nothing more than a long-winded mess which wasn’t scary at all, which is what a horror story is supposed to be.

If there’s one thing I can say that was good about this story was reading it. This was one of those easy reads where the reading level is low and there’s not much massive words or descriptions used. Apart from that, I really can’t say anything else good about this story.

I didn’t expect much from The Glow (it was an op shop pickup), and that’s just how it was. It may have a good readability level, but that doesn’t help it being long-winded, not scary, and the characters being unlikeable. If you like reading shitty novels then give this a read. If you don’t, then just give this a pass.

1.5/5

Dreams of Empire by Justin Richards

The Romanesque Republic in outer space is on the verge of collapse. With this, the fear of war begins to grow, which they want to prevent. This is a mission only the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria can solve.

Yeah, that’s all I could really say about the premise of Dreams of Empire. This is one of the licenced Doctor Who novels I picked up around the fiftieth anniversary. This one follows the Doctor in his second incarnation (Patrick Troughton) and his companions, Jamie and Victoria. I’ve read some Doctor Who books in the past and overall thought they were pretty good. This one, however, is a bit of a mixed bag for me.

There’s a lot I like about this story. First of all, I love the Second Doctor in here. He’s a very physical Doctor in the show, and the author did really well to show it in this book, something that I can only imagine is really difficult. I liked the idea of a Romanesque Republic in outer space. It’s something I’ve not seen before and I ended up finding really interesting. I also liked how the entire story was connected to a game of chess.

Despite these positive points, there are some unfortunate negative things here. I had a lot of trouble reading this story properly, due to the way it was written. I also didn’t find the narrative to be all that interesting outside of all this, which I find is a bit of a shame. The characters outside The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria were a little wooden and didn’t really appeal to me, which is a bit of a shame. Their Roman style names as well made it more difficult for me to follow properly and remember exactly who was who.

Dreams of Empire is overall an interesting read. It has some good and interesting points within it as well as some bad things. It’s not my favourite Doctor Who book, but it’s still an interesting read altogether.

3/5

Short Stories

As per usual, I will keep my short story descriptions brief, to prevent spoilers from appearing.

‘And no Birds Sing’ by E.F. Benson

Another story from my Vampire Stories collection, ‘And no Birds Sing’ is an interesting tale of horror and suspense. Everything about it is dripping classic early 20th-century horror, which I really like. The writing is dated, but is still readable. And the reveal, holy shit, I never expected the vampire in this story to be what it was. Want to know what that vampire form is? Read this story and you’ll find out!

3.5/5

Seeds by Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter

The first short story from the Midnight and Moonshine collection, ‘Seeds’ is a really interesting story. This is a speculative story with Vikings, something I’ve heard a lot about but not read too much of. Despite containing Vikings, this story, for me anyway, was a little confusing and odd. I had a bit of trouble understanding the plot and found the characters a little forgettable, despite them having awesome names. This was an interesting tale I really wanted to like, but I found myself unable to.

2.5/5

Book Talk: April 2017

April has been a busy month for me. I picked up a whole lot of different books at Comic-Con (see Image One), and I got to meet Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who, Broadchurch) and Brent Spiner (Star Trek: TNG, Outcast).

20170501_185635.jpg

Image One: Just some of the books I picked up at Oz Comic-Con.

My uni workload has also increased, which involves working on an animated show and a video game. I also managed to finish Breath of the Wild, celebrate my birthday, read out one of my stories to an audience, and complete the Resident Evil remake. All this has, of course, impacted my reading for this month, but I’ve still done quite a bit of it. Due to my crazy schedule, I read more short stories and even took a dip into some strange styles of storytelling along the way.

Novels

Inverted World by Christopher Priest

First published in 1974, Inverted World is the third novel from British author, Christopher Priest. The book follows the main character, an apprentice named Helward Mann, in his adventures to keep his home city, Earth, alive on an alien planet. Earth is a city that runs on railway tracks and must do so, or face destruction if stopped.

I wasn’t sure on what to expect when I first picked this book up. All over my copy of the book they had that it’s got one of the trickiest twist endings in science fiction. The story itself was interesting, but flicked between the first and third person a little too much for my liking. It was a little confusing to be going from what Helward was witnessing internally to him on the outside and the descriptions of the world. Then again, this shift in narration style allowed me to get more of an idea of this world and how it operates.

The character of Helward is an interesting one. He’s someone who has been born and raised in ignorance and believes everything his authority has ever said. I found it enjoyable once he started to get out there and discover the world, realising things aren’t exactly right to what he’s known.

Perhaps the big part of this story though is its ending. I won’t spoil it, but I will say it’s worth to experience. Just from some hints within it I already had an idea on how it would end, but the way Priest did it wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s little tweaks to the twist ending I like, and Helward’s reaction to it is genuine and enhances his character further.

Inverted World was an interesting read, with a fantastic twist ending, an interesting world, and many key themes of dystopian sci-fi. Give this one a read if you come across it, it’s certainly unusual which is what any good sci-fi book should be.

3.5/5

Short Story Collections

The Man with the Axe in his Back (Collection) by Queenie Chan

Here’s a book I’m going to have a hard time talking about. This book collects four short stories by Australian author, Queenie Chan, and sets them out in a “Frankenstein” combination of comics and prose: better known as comics-prose (see Image Two).

20170501_185346.jpg

Image Two: An example of what is comics-prose. From The Man With the Axe in his Back by Queenie Chan.

The question is though did it work? In one way, not really. I found the switching between comics and prose forms to be distracting, especially with images full of colour. However, they worked really well with the stories being told. Having the comics helped with showing me the setting and how the characters looked, and their reactions to what they were witnessing. All of the images have a hint of manga animation style to them, which I found to be unique, especially for an Australian made book.

The four stories in this collection though are fantastic, which redeems the main flaw I mentioned earlier. The Man with the Axe in his Back is set in an unlikely place for a horror story: a lift in an office building. Cassie and Lassie had a woman’s foot being savaged while she reads ghost stories on Reddit. The Hallow Tree follows a young boy hiding in a tree during the Fall of Singapore in World War Two. Civilised People brought us into an unknown Asian city (presumably Hong Kong) during World War Two about a starving family attempting to stay civilised.

This is an extremely interesting book all throughout: from the comics-prose set out, to the blood freezing tales of horror that are within here. The stories in here are great reads and well-written, and the art style is gorgeous, despite being slightly distracting. I recommend this to anyone who wants to read something different, but be aware of the comic-prose style. However, there’s a prose only version of this book, which for some will be a relief.

4/5

Short Stories

As always, I’ll try to be as brief as possible with these short stories.

Graveyard Shift by Stephen King

This was a very interesting read from the short story collection: Night Shift. I was extremely unsettled by the rats within here and found myself connected in a strange way to the main character. I recommend this read if you like horror stories involving rats.

4/5

Night Surf by Stephen King

Also from Night Shift, this is a short story set in the world of The Stand. There was a lot of interesting things within this piece, but I found it a little difficult to follow. I didn’t really like the characters and the story was a bit of a mess. I like the idea of short post-apocalyptic fiction, but this isn’t one of those stories.

2/5

The Haunter of the Dark by H.P. Lovecraft

This is from my giant book of Lovecraft (as seen in the cover image). This story was by far one of my favourite Lovecraft stories I’ve read recently, and certainly one of his few very readable pieces. The plot works really well and I was creeped out while reading it. If you’re new to Lovecraft, check this story out; it’s readable and full of his eldritch styles of horror.

3.5/5

Book Talk: March 2017

We have a saying in my hometown for this past month: Mad March. Usually it refers to our numerous festivals, but that’s what it’s been like for me as well. I started back at uni and I’ve been involved with a lot there since then. Along with that I’ve been playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild almost every day since its release and been enjoying every moment of it. I’ve also been writing features for my uni magazine and been getting ready for my local Oz Comic-Con, which is where I’ll be when you’re reading this. It’s these factors however made my reading this month a little slower than usual. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from reading, and I’ve still got enough to talk about for this month. So, with no further delay, let’s dive in.

Novels

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

Released in 1953, The Long Goodbye features Philip Marlowe as he attempts to solve the case of the death of his friend, Terry Lennox. This case has him meeting all kinds of strange people and finding himself in the middle of some murders and attempting to keep the police from arresting him.

This is by far one of Chandler’s most personal works, and possibly, in my opinion, inferior to the other two Chandler stories in my copy: The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely. There’s a lot of social commentary from the early 1950s in this piece, as well as trauma from war, alcoholism, and the corruption of capitalism. These are themes that I’m not used to seeing in detective fiction, which makes it an interesting addition to the genre. It however made it a much slower read than the previous two, in my opinion. Parts of this story just felt so longwinded and there were times when not much was really happening, which was a little disappointing. The character of Marlowe though was much stronger in here than the previous two stories. In this story he felt less of just a private dick and more like a human being, which is something that I liked seeing.

The Long Goodbye won’t be making my list for all-time greatest books, but it’s still an interesting read. It’s not as legendary as The Big Sleep or Farewell, My Lovely, but it still has many great merits. It’s an interesting glimpse into the life of Chandler and his thoughts on society, despite being fictional and a little longwinded. Give this a read if you’re interested in a hardboiled detective story with heart and social commentary.

3/5

The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson

Released in 1956, The Shrinking Man follows Scott Carey, a man who’s shrinking after being exposed to radioactive gas. The story follows Carey in a nonlinear fashion, being broken up between him in the present and how he came to shrink.

As I’ve probably said in a previous Book Talk, I’m a massive fan of Richard Matheson’s works. I’ve loved almost every single one of his books that I’ve read so far. It’s because of my undying love for Matheson is why I picked this book up. I’m proud to say that it’s still as magical and fun as any of his other works.

Following Scott Carey on his journey to becoming this tiny man is nothing short of fascinating. I enjoyed watching his humanity slowly seeping away from him the shorter he became, and of his sexual frustrations as his wife, Louise, becomes estranged to him. Perhaps my favourite part of this is when Louise hires a babysitter to take care of the daughter, Beth, when Scott is too short to do so. Due to his sexual frustrations, Scott becomes almost obsessed with the babysitter, and begins acting in a way much like an awkward child would when discovering sexual feelings for the first time. This made me feel uneasy while reading and effectively portrayed Scott’s decaying humanity.

The other part I just can’t ignore in this story is him fighting the spider. Holy shit, the terror I felt while watching him fight that spider is unspeakable. I hate spiders and this scene just made my skin crawl. It may only be a black widow, but still, it’s frightening to see a tiny human fighting a spider.

The Shrinking Man is one of Matheson’s best known works, and there’s a reason why. This story is fantastic and offers a nice blend of science fiction and horror without being too orientated towards one side.

4.5/5

Short Stories

I managed to find time this month to read some short stories. As usual, I’ll only write mini discussions on them and not go too much in depth.

Mirror Mirror by Ethan Fode

I found this story in an issue of Andromeda Spaceways. It had a fantastical feel to it to begin with, only to turn into a creepy story all based around a mirror. This story had a Matheson feel to it, which I liked and overall was an interesting read.

3.5/5

Gunning for a Tinkerman by Jason Fischer

Appearing in Everything is a Graveyard short story collection, Gunning for a Tinkerman is a strange sort of tale. To me, it feels like Stephen King’s Dark Tower meets Australiana. I really wanted to enjoy this story, but I unfortunately had a lot of difficulty following it. Still, it has some quite horrifying things in it, which made it enjoyable in a way.

2.5/5

Rolling for Fetch by Jason Fischer

Also from Everything is a Graveyard, this story was an interesting read. It reminds me somewhat of the 2004 film I Robot mixed with Australian lifestyle, but isn’t about robots or is quite sci-fi. I had fun reading this piece, and especially liked the love story in it.

3.5/5

Book Talk: February 2017

We’ve had some quite ridiculous and wonderful things happen in February. There were strange new immigration laws rolled out in the United States, the announcement of the discovery of seven new earth-sized exoplanets, and my hometown have two minor earthquakes within a week of each other. Like some things in this world, my reading this month was quite strange. I did something for the first time since starting Book Talk back in October 2016: I didn’t read a single short story. This month I was too preoccupied with reading longer books to get around to the shorter works. So with no further delay, here’s what I read this month.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

For more information on this title, see my Book Talk January 2017 (Part One) post here.

I had doubts that I would finish this book by the end of the month, but it turned out I read it faster than expected. This was caused because I came to fall in love with this book, and found myself unable to put it down. I loved the character of Jake Epping and enjoyed his many fish out of pond moments; including him singing ‘Honky Tonk Women’, a 1969 Rolling Stones song in the early 60s (1961, I think). Most of all, I thoroughly enjoyed the romance between Jake and Sadie Clayton, something that made the time between his arrival in Texas in 1960 to the titular date seem to fly by. I also loved all the little nods to King’s previous works; including characters from It (1986) and the red 1958 Plymouth from Christine (1983).

If I were to say one bad thing about this story that would be close to the end. I won’t spoil it here, but those who’ve read it previously will know. (Hint: Earthquakes and Vermont Yankee).

Overall, 11/22/63 is one of my all-time favourite books, and one I certainly recommend to anyone who enjoys reading. I’ve also seen part of the TV series from J.J. Abrams and I now want to watch more of it because of this book.

5/5

The House of Glass by Paul Tobin and Joe Querio

I don’t normally talk about graphic novels in Book Talk, but this one is an exception. I’m a huge fan of the video game The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt and it’s up there as one of my all-time favourite video games. I’ve also previously read The Last Wish, the first book in the Witcher series, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s because of my interest in the Witcher franchise is why I came to pick up this graphic novel.

I’ll start by saying that this isn’t written by Andrzej Sapkowski, creator of the series. Instead, this has been created by Paul Tobin and Joe Querio, which made me slightly nervous due to them not being known to me. However, what they’ve created is a fascinating story which stuck true to the Witcher series.

The story follows Geralt, who comes across a widowed fisherman by the edge of the Black Forest. This meeting has him travel through the Black Forest, where he comes across an old house within it called the House of Glass. It’s here that Geralt battles supernatural creatures and uncovers the secret on why he was brought here.

I loved the horror fantasy blend in this story, as well as I got creeped out with some of the creatures Geralt encountered. The ending too was interesting, and a little unexpected, which is what I like in any good story.

If you’re like me: love The Witcher 3, graphic novels, a good horror fantasy, or all three together, then this is a story for you. If you’re curious about a non-Sapkowski entry in The Witcher series then give this a check out as well.

4/5

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Imagine a world where you’re watched constantly, divisions between the rich and the poor have grown considerably, and a government who say all kinds of lies to its people. Sounds familiar? No, I’m not talking about contemporary life; I’m talking about George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. This book and its content has divided people since publication in 1949 and continues to do so even as you read this sentence.

I can certainly say now that I feel embarrassed that I didn’t read this earlier (thank you younger me). So much of this book is relevant to what’s going on in the world right now. What Winston and Julia experience in their world is just terrifying, but unfortunately is seen quite a bit in society today, particularly with anti-terror laws in some countries.

Sorry if I’m getting too political; it’s hard not to when discussing this book. I guess that’s why it’s endured for nearly 70 years, because of the amount of political stuff that’s within here, and with how relevant it is.

If I’m to down this book in anyway it’ll quite simply by this: parts of it bore the living shit out of me. I became very uninterested in all the long explanations of what the world’s like, and particularly the really heavy political parts. These made the book feel more like Orwell’s personal essay rather than one that I can sit down and enjoy.

Unlike other books I’ve discussed in previous Book Talks, I really can’t give an entirely accurate final thought on Nineteen Eighty-Four. I will say this though: if you’re looking for a dystopian book with engaging characters and an interesting story then this isn’t the book for you. If you wish to start political debates, question the ways the contemporary world is working, or want to envision a horrible future then read this.

3.5/5

Book Talk: January 2017 (Part Two)

Welcome to part two of Book Talk: January 2017. Below you will find what I thought about the short stories I read this past month. As always, I will only be brief in my thoughts as short stories are obviously short and I don’t wish to spoil their plots, or talk about weird theories around them.

Short Stories

Jerusalem’s Lot by Stephen King

This story is the first one (in my edition) from Stephen King’s Night Shift, a short story collection. This was by far my favourite short story for the month for a number of reasons. First, the story’s New England setting is true to King’s style, which is something I treasure deep when reading his works. The way it has been written, as well as its mid-19th century setting reminds me heavily of the works of Poe and Lovecraft. It is told entirely through letters and journal entries, which only evoked more terror in me whilst reading and gave it a classic horror feel.

If you want to experience classic horror, but with a much more modern style then I highly recommend you read this story. If you love other works by King, then you’ll enjoy this one too.

4/5

The Brown Hand by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: the man who brought us Sherlock Holmes, tried his hand in many different genres in his lifetime: horror one of them. I adore him as an author and have enjoyed reading the adventures of Holmes and Doctor Watson in the past, but this story, The Brown Hand, is not one of them.

I had a lot of trouble understanding its plot, what characters were saying, and what I should be scared of exactly. Despite these, I found it quite intriguing into exploring the ideas around colonialism at the time, particularly around India. This doesn’t save it though from being a quite uninteresting read, in my own eyes.

2/5

An Episode in Cathedral History by M.R. James

And we go from one bad story to, unfortunately, yet another one. This one came from M.R. James, a popular classic literature writer of horror fiction. I came across this one in a collection of vampire short stories. I was quite interested in reading something from one of the legends of classic horror fiction, but this was a disappointment. I couldn’t quite understand what was happening in the plot, even after turning back pages. Turning back the pages only confused me even more, which in turn soured my experience.

M.R. James is a legend in horror fiction, and I will read more of his works in the future. As for you, dear reader, if you want a great story which you understand clearly, just ignore this one.

1.5/5

Mick’s Suit by T.A. Robinson

This story is the first one in issue 55 of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Although it was only a few pages long, I found it to be really enjoyable. It has a sort of quirkiness to it that I haven’t seen in many of the recent contemporary short stories I’ve read. I won’t spoil the plot, but I will say that you’ll be unsure if you want to laugh or be mortified.

If you’re into a fun, quirky story that you can read quick and find yourself enjoying then I recommend this one. If you just want something different, then I recommend this too.

3.5/5

Book Talk: January 2017 (Part One)

So much has happened in 2017 already, and the year is only a month old. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four became a best seller, we found out more about the Nintendo Switch, we lost a legendary actor (RIP John Hurt), and witnessed some weird shit going down in the United States.

For those who are concerned about our scary, uncertain future – fear not – books will always be there for you. Books are magical things; they have the power to allow us to escape to strange new worlds, make us laugh and cry, and forget about the horrors of the real world.

Fiction based around escaping the real world is how I can sum up my reading for this month. A couple of the novels had me literally jumping through portals from the real world into the fantasy one.

Novels

Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly

Carrying over from December, I finally finished reading Matthew Reilly’s latest book. You can find more of my thoughts here.

Overall this novel was a real blast, quite literally. In true Matthew Reilly style, there was a lot of over the top fast paced action, explosions, and gruesome deaths. The climax to this book was awesome and I found myself unable to put it down. Topping it off, seeing those characters (those who’ve read it will know) together and interacting with Jack, only make this story even more awesome.

If you enjoy fast-paced action, interested in a quick and thrilling read, or want to read something new, then I highly recommend this book. It’s great as a standalone, but I also recommend you check out the others in the series (Seven Ancient Wonders, Six Sacred Stones, Five Greatest Warriors). I recommend his Scarecrow series as well, since that’s just as thrilling, fun, and fast-paced.

4/5

Through the Fig Tree by KE Fraser

Through the Fig Tree is the first book in The Realm of the Lilies series by indie author, KE Fraser. The story follows two characters: a woman named Violet who travels through a fig tree to the fantasy kingdom of The Realm of the Lilies, and Daniel, a prince soon to be king of the kingdom. The plot focuses around the two of them trying to meet up with each other once again.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I first picked up this book. Most of the fantasy books I have read in the past have tended to be either quite grim or extremely violent. It’s this reading history of fantasy is why I found this book to be quite a relief. Yeah, there was a little bit of violence, and some hinting towards a possible future war, but it was nowhere near as over the top as some of the other series I’ve read (A Song of Ice and Fire, I’m looking at you!).

The story has a real Alice in Wonderland feel to it, especially when Violet steps through from the real world into The Realm of the Lilies. Like Violet, I was taken away by the vast beauty of the world and of the strange, unique culture of the people.

There is only really one complaint that I have with this story. The beginning of it is slow, bullock cart slow in my opinion, with not much action happening till quite a fair way in. This didn’t really bother me, but it may for those who are looking for something with a lot of action. Apart from that, I really don’t have much to complain about this story.

Just a little thing, not a complaint, but my edition did have some errors within the story, which was slightly distracting while I was reading it. I believe they have been fixed since I bought my copy.

Through the Fig Tree is one of those books which takes escaping to the fantasy world seriously. It may not be as action heavy as many other fantasy series, but it’s great if you just want to get lost in a world, rather than see it be soaked in blood.

4/5

11.22.63 by Stephen King

What do you get when you mix the conspiracies around President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and Stephen King together? I can answer that for you; one hell of a bloody good story.

As from writing this I’m still only just over a third into 11.22.63, so I won’t go into too much detail this month, but I will go through what I think about it so far. This has been one of my most engaging reads in quite a while. Like Through the Fig Tree, I found myself stepping through a portal into the fantasy world. Only this world is mid-20th century America, rather than one of a high fantasy setting. It feels like a fair dinkum step back in time after Jake Epping, the main protagonist, went through the portal. So far, the story has given me that fantastical feel of post-World War Two America (great food, friendly folk), and its dark side (racism, smoking, etc.).

I’ll get through 11.22.63 at my own pace, which judging on its size (740 pages for my edition), this may come to occupy most of my reading time next month as well. I will post my final thoughts about it upon completion.

*Stay tuned for Book Talk: January 2017 (Part Two) coming tomorrow where I will discuss short stories.

Book Talk: December 2016 (Part Two)

Short Stories

*This here is part two of my Book Talk: December 2016 post. This covers the short stories that I read in December, and a quick overview on what I thought of them.

Compared to November, I read a whole lot more short stories than just the one. I read five short stories from four different authors on different sides of the speculative fiction genre; from the 20th century American pulps, to ones inspired by Australian aboriginal mythology.

The Return of The Sorcerer by Clark Ashton Smith

This was the first story I’ve read from pulp author, Clark Ashton Smith. I found this one in a collection of old stories inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. I have wanted to explore this author for a long time, and I saw this as my opportunity. The story, however, didn’t work too well for me. I had a lot of trouble following the story and I found it difficult to connect with the characters. It just didn’t do it for me and was not the introduction to Ashton Smith I was hoping for.

2/5

Once a Month, On a Sunday by Ian McHugh

I came across this story while reading a copy of Australis Imaginarium. I found it to be very well written and quite mystical, which made it a unique experience for me. I had fun while reading it, and found its Australian setting fresh and unique.

3/5

Night Heron’s Curse by Thoraiya Dyer

I came along this story as well in Australis Imaginarium. I had a lot of difficulty following the story to begin with, but I quickly came to love the aboriginal mythology themes mixed with the speculative. This helped make the story a lot more enjoyable for me. Most of the difficulty I had with reading this was primarily me not knowing who the protagonist was exactly. I forgot that in the end, favouring its strangeness instead.

3/5

Prey by Richard Matheson

Compared to the other short stories from the Nightmare at 20,000 Feet collection, I find it quite difficult to sum up with how I feel about this story. It certainly was frightening and had quite a bit of gore in it, but at the same time I had a lot of trouble trying to follow it. It just didn’t have that same kick like the other stories in the collection do. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it though; in fact, I actually think it’s really good, and a good addition to Matheson’s horror works. It’s just only compared to the other stories in the collection, it felt a little bit of a letdown for me.

3.5/5

Likeness of Julie by Richard Matheson

And now we’re here: my favourite story of December. Like Prey, Likeness of Julie is also out of Matheson’s Nightmare at 20,000 Feet collection. Holy shit, I can’t begin to describe how much I enjoyed reading this story. I really should start with how I really love the idea of horror stories starting out so sweet and innocent. The things that occur in this story, it’s quite brutal and horrifying to read, let alone even mention now. The story delves a lot into the idea of human sexuality, and how sometimes people don’t know how to control their sexual urges. This premise reminded me of the films StalkHer (2015), and Blue Velvet (1986), despite being written years before those films were made.

If you’re looking at an introduction to one of the greatest horror writers before Stephen King, then I recommend you read this story. It’s haunted, twisted, and sickening, three things, I believe, which make a great horror story. It’s also one of the stories which makes me remember why I enjoy Richard Matheson’s works so much, and why I believe the Nightmare at 20,000 Feet collection is a must-have for any fans of horror fiction.

5/5

Book Talk: December 2016 (Part One)

What a hell of a year 2016 was. All the troubles with politics, the issues with other nations, and the deaths of countless celebrities (R.I.P Carrie Fisher for December) made it a not so good year for some people.

However, for me personally, 2016 overall was a fantastic year. I’d experienced so many great moments in gaming and film, lived in Singapore for a month, and have read some awesome books. December saw no shortage of great stories that I’d read, both in novels and short story form. I continued my reading of Australian speculative fiction throughout the month, and have gone on to read some more stories from some of my favourite authors, both Australian and Non-Australian.

Due to the immense amount of reading I did in December, I’ll be splitting this up into two parts: novels that I’ve read is up now below, and short stories will be up tomorrow (January 2nd).

Novels

Amazon 7: Mission Queen by Alex James

What do you get when you combine Lara Croft and space opera together? Quite simple, you get Mission Queen, the first book in the Amazon 7 series by Australian author, Alex James. Mission Queen follows Astra Solara, a hire-on commander who works for government corporations on missions. She and her team become targets by assassins and they avoid them, while engaging on a mission to save humanity from the deadliest force it has ever faced.

I’m a little on the fence overall with Mission Queen. The imagination to this story is amazing, and I think it’s an exceptionally good space opera because of that imagination. This heavy amount of imagination reminded me heavily of classic Doctor Who, which was also amazing. And adding to the awesome stuff in this story, there are parts of it set in Australia, which I enjoy seeing in speculative fiction.

However, despite this wondrous imagination, there were some unfortunate downers to it. First of all, I had a lot of trouble connecting with the characters. I liked Astra during the action scenes, but found it difficult to connect with her. The other characters felt like cardboard cut-outs to me, which even now I find unfortunate. The story as well to me felt a little disjointed and I had a lot of difficulty trying to follow it.

I can’t finish this without making mention to sex and masturbation in this story. Holy shit, there is just a few times where Astra is masturbating or having sex during the course of the book. There’s even a scene where one of the female characters gets shot in the vagina with a special sort of gun, making her nerve endings even more sensitive. That still doesn’t beat a machine which can give orgasms in less than three minutes and does both the vagina and bum hole. I don’t mind sex or masturbation in fiction, but in here it felt a little distracting and dimmed my experience. I think it’s one of the reasons why I found it difficult to connect with Astra.

Overall, I think Mission Queen is an alright book. It has some good things in it, as well as some bad things. Then there’s the parts in it that made me wonder what was going on, and others which made me cringe. If you like a space opera that’s different then give this a go. If not, then this may not really be the book for you.

3/5

The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly

I never used to enjoy reading that much when I was growing up. That was before I was introduced to Matthew Reilly, and the worlds of Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield and Captain Jack West. I have read almost all of his books (excluding Hover Car Racer and Contest) and have loved each and every one of them. It’s my love for him as an author that I would eventually read The Four Legendary Kingdoms, his latest book. The Four Legendary Kingdoms is the fourth in the Jack West series (beginning with Seven Ancient Wonders). The story follows Jack West after he’s been kidnapped by some strange people and must participate in an event called the Great Games.

As from writing this, I’m only halfway through the book, but I have been really enjoying it so far. It’s got everything a Matthew Reilly book should have: fast paced action, an awesome protagonist, and the inability to put it down. I’ve really been enjoying being back with Jack West after all these years (2009’s Five Greatest Warriors was the last time West was featured). There’s also something really awesome that happens in this book which I won’t say since it’s kind of a spoiler. Want to find out what it is? Go have a read of it and you’ll see.

I’ll have my full thoughts on The Four Legendary Kingdoms in next month’s Book Talk.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, when I upload part two of Book Talk: December 2016 (Short Stories).