Remembrance of Earth’s Past by Liu Cixin

Very interesting pair of books, and although there are three books in the series, I don’t know when or if I’ll read the final book. While the books are technically in a series, they don’t share many characters and the main story in both books are very different.

The Three-Body Problem

A secret Chinese military operation send messages out into space. One day they receive a reply. The aliens inhabit a world with three suns, all orbiting there solar system randomly, with chaotic eras and neutral eras. During the chaotic eras their whole world can be set back to the stone age, with all of the Trisolarians dehydrated and rolled up to be stored until such time as their world become neutral again. The greatest mathematicians have tried and failed to predict each era. On top of this, there is a well funded faction on Earth who want to welcome the Trisolarians, even if it will mean the destruction of all humanity.

The Dark Forest

The aliens have set out for Earth, and four humans have been picked to try and prevent the invasion. The aliens have used their superior technology to ‘hack’ into all of Earth’s information, so nothing is secret once it has been spoken or written. The Trisolarians might be only 4 light years from Earth, but their journey will take 200 years. Can Earth save itself from invasion.

Both books are fairly slow going to begin with, but eventually they become very hard to put down. There is a great deal of science, and a lot of Chinese history. Sometimes the translation appears to have missed out on nuances and subtleties that are often present in well written thrillers. The narration can feel blunt and two-dimensional, almost like the book equivalent of watching a badly dubbed film. It took me a while to realise that my favourite character from the first book wasn’t going to appear in the second book. The second book is also set over almost 200 years, as suspended animation has been perfected. The concept behind the ‘Dark Forest’ is also very bleak, and I would hope that it isn’t true, although I can’t say anything else about it. The second book is also much better than the first.

Both book have received tons of praise and won many awards, but they are full of quirky ideas and complicated science, sometimes based on facts and other times completely made up. If you like long winded complicated sci-fi, then you’ll enjoy these. For me, there was too much ‘nothingness’ to wade through before the good stuff happened.

My review does appear to be slightly negative, however, there is a lot of good stuff in both books. Stripping 100 pages from each book would improve them immensely. The reviews are also very mixed, so read with caution.

DI Hillary Greene Series by Faith Martin

The first book in the series piqued my interest due to it being set in Oxford, my old city. It was a perfectly acceptable murder mystery with interesting characters, larger than life villains and an obvious multi-book plot arc. The story revolved around drug dealers using the canal to transport the drugs, and a murder. The second book, as all the titles suggest, was another murder, this one in one of the colleges. Since then I have read another four books in the series, and while I’m not rushing out to buy the next one in the series, I expect that at some point in the future I will want to know what is happening in the world of DI Hillary Greene.

Murder of the Bride

This is the third book in the series, and unlike the Jack Reacher series, these books do really need to be read in order. Hillary Greene is called out to a party at a farm, where the bride has been killed in a cowshed. Plenty of the locals have reason for wanting her dead, including the father of her soon to be husband.

With plenty of twists and turns who the actual murderer is, and their reason for the killing, doesn’t become clear until almost the end of the book. Also, what will Hillary do about the money that her dead ex-husband might or might not have squirrelled away in an off shore bank account.

Murder in the Village

A politician has been murdered in his home. The alibi for his wife is full of holes, and where was their cleaner at the time of his death. His rival for the election seems to be very mild mannered, but is he all that he appears to be. And what about the man in the village who holds a grudge when his cat was killed by the politician’s dogs. Is his death connected to the sudden death of the notorious local drug lord.

Murder in the Family

A 15 year old is found brutally murdered in the garden shed. Who was the teenager blackmailing, and did one of his victims kill him, or was it someone in his own family, perhaps his disturbed younger sister. Hillary has also been passed over for promotion, and her reliable constable is due to be transferred, even though he is madly in love with his boss. Also, what’s happened to her ex-husbands money.

Murder at Home

Why would anyone want to kill Flo Jenkins, a friendly and harmless old woman, with very little money. Was it her drug addled son? Was it her equally elderly neighbour who used to be in the army? Also, it was well known that Flo had cancer and only had a few weeks to live, hoping to live long enough for one last birthday party. On top of all this, Hillary Greene has a new constable, transferred in from London due to punching a superior officer, and her other constable is leaving to get married.

As I have said, the series is fairly regular and not too offensive, apart from the murders. The plot within each books moves along nicely, and the multi-book plot adds a little more with each book. Also, her constables move on to new positions, as they would in the real world, however much we might like the supporting cast.

The books are nothing special, but they are entertaining, in an easy kind of way. With another 13 books in the series yet to read, it might take me a while.

The Liveship Traders Trilogy by Robin Hobb

After reading the Farseer Trilogy I searched for the next Robin Hobb series. There are quite a few, and even though each is a stand alone series, they have been written in some kind of chronological order. This is why I started to read the Liveship Traders Trilogy. Also, I haven’t finished a 1500+ page series of books since I blogged about the Farseer Trilogy last week. I read the first trilogy last year and the second trilogy in January and February, and I’ve been a bit slack in writing book reviews.

Ship of Magic

The first book sets the tone of what’s to come, and what exactly a ‘Liveship’ is. Wizardwood is sentient wood and the most precious wood in the world. A ship made from it, in due time, will become alive, but only when three successive generations of the same family have died on the deck of their ship. When this happens the figurehead can talk, move, and generally aid in the sailing of the ship. Because of this, Liveships are the most sort after and quickest ships anywhere in the world. Liveships are also the only ships that can navigate the Rain Wild River, where some of the most lucrative trading can be carried out.

At the start of the book, the elder Vestrit is taken on board to die, and awaken Vivacia, their family’s ship. As he dies, his last wish is for his son in law to become the ship’s captain, even though his youngest daughter would have made a far better captain. Added to all, there is an abandoned Liveship near the main port, who has gone mad and killed all of his crew, twice. There are also pirates and the Vestrit’s young son who was training to become a priest.

The Mad Ship

From the title of the second book it is obvious that much of it concerns the mad ship Paragon, and the efforts to sail him again, against his wishes. Hopefully I’m not giving away too much by saying that the Vivacia has been taken over by pirates and the Vestrit’s young son is being held captive on board to ensure that the ship cooperates. Can the pirates be defeated and save their family’s ship?

Ship of Destiny

Civil war threatens to destroy the main port of the Liveships, and the Vestrits are in hiding. The Rain Wild River traders might come to their aid, but they only have enough Wizardwood to build one last ship. The pirates onboard the Vivacia are attacking slavers, and have in effect become respected. Also, will the truth about the Liveships destroy everything?

I thoroughly enjoyed all three books, although the stuff about Serpents was confusing until almost half way through the final book. I enjoyed the to and fro-ing between the good and the bad characters, never really knowing who was who. The books are stuffed with interesting characters, as well as a few self centred boring ones, who often turn out to be far less boring than first suggested. A very good series of books, with plenty to get your teeth into, and to make a pleasant change, it wasn’t all about war, a gripe of mine for many fantasy books.

The overall scores on Goodreads for all three books are approximately 4.2, which is a very healthy score. Next up from Robin Hobb would be The Tawny Man Trilogy, although that might be a while away for me, seeing as how many books ‘to be read’ I currently have.

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

For someone who pretends not to read fantasy, I sure have read a lot of fantasy recently. Last year I finished The Red Knight by Miles Cameron and was looking for something different. I stumbled upon a list with fantasy author recommendations, and Robin Hobb was one of them. The next time I was in Waterstones I spotted one of her books. It can home with me, and I’m glad it did. The book was Assassin’s Apprentice, the first book in the Farseer Trilogy.

Assassin’s Apprentice

Fitz, the main character, is a royal bastard, and because his father was named Chivalry, he has no option but to renounce his royal lineage, even though he is not next in line to the throne. Fitz is taken in by the man who looks after the royal stables. There is magic in Fitz’s veins, which allows him to forge a link with his dog, a forbidden type of magic called the Wit.

Slowly Fitz finds his way in the royal castle, befriends a mysterious old man, who might be the royal assassin, or might be raving mad. There is also the very strange court jester. How does he fit into everything. However, Fitz finds that he is being trained to become an assassin, a covert one who deals mostly with subterfuge and poisons.

As with all trilogy’s, it is difficult to expand too much about the second and third books without giving too much away, but I shall try.

Royal Assassin

Fitz has been left for dead and vows to leave the King and the royal castle. However, the Red-Ship raiders are killing whole villages and there is treachery inside the royal court. Can Fitz put a stop to the raiders, and prevent the old king from being killed?

Assassin’s Quest

Very difficult to say anything about this book as almost everything gives away too much plot. However, what I will say is that on the whole I really enjoyed this trilogy. It was a welcome change from most fantasy books which seem to revolve around war and little else. Robin Hobb focuses on well written characters and deep thought out storylines.

I did have a couple of minor gripes. The Wit, the magical ability to link with an animal, isn’t expanded upon enough with regards to people that Fitz meets who also have this magic. The second gripe was towards the end of the last book, the actual quest seems to go on forever without too much happening. The end is brilliant, but getting there can feel like a drag.

All three books are rated on Goodreads at a little over 4 stars, which I think is fair. An above average fantasy trilogy without focusing on war. Finally, is it just me, or is it only possible to read fantasy books with the actual book so that it is possible to look at the map near the beginning, which is really difficult to do with an e-book version.

More Jack Reacher

I’m hooked. I can’t lie, I have become a Jack Reacher fan, albeit one very late to the party. So late in fact that Lee Child had almost given up writing Reacher books. The most recent Reacher books have been written in collaboration with Andrew Child, who I assumed was Lee Child’s son, keeping it in the family. Turns out that Lee Child had a grown up daughter, and no son.

Andrew Child is a pseudonym, his real name is Andrew Grant, a thriller writer in his own right. Lee Child is also a pseudonym, his real name is Lee Grant, the older brother of Andrew Grant. He is keeping Jack Reacher in the family after all. The idea is that Andrew will co-write a few books with Lee, and then Lee will step aside.

One of the good things about the Reacher books is that they don’t have to be read in order, which I can attest to having read a few random ones. Another good thing is that because the books are so popular, they can invariably be picked up in second hand bookshops and charity shops, which is what I intend to do. I have a small note book with a list of all of the books, with ticks against nine of them to indicate which books I have (double tick for the ones I’ve read).

I won’t dwell too long on Reacher’s back story. He’s career army, ending up as a Major in the military police, from an army family, never staying in one place very long. Upon leaving the army he finds himself travelling around America with no belongings. I get the feeling that he might have intended to do this for a limited period until he found his place, but in the first book, Killing Floor, he finds his brother’s dead body, which I could suppose was the catalyst for him becoming a permanent hobo.

Persuader (Book #7)

In Persuader, Jack bumps into a face from his past. A man who should be dead. A man who deserved to die. Jack teams up with some FBI agents, working off the book due to a botched operation where an undercover agent ended up dead. The plan is for Jack to infiltrate the crime syndicate and find out who killed their agent, although Jack has his own agenda, to find the man from his past and ensure that this time he remains dead, for good. Things start off badly when Jack kills a cop, and then it all get worse.

The Hard Way (Book #10)

Jack is drinking coffee in New York late at night when a man drives off in a Mercedes. The very next night, in the same place, a man asks Jack what he saw. Apparently he witnessed a kidnapper drive off with the ransom money. Jack becomes embroiled in trying to save a mercenary’s wife and step daughter. Who are this shady bunch of mercs, and why does the boss have millions in cash available at the drop of a hat? Who is the woman watching from an overlooking apartment, making copious notes. Why is a former FBI agent willing to help? The action starts in New York, but ends up in London, with the explosive finale taking place in a small farm in Norfolk. Jack hits a dead end in finding the kidnappers, so he sets about finding clues ‘The Hard Way’.

Bad Luck and Trouble (Book #11)

Jack’s bank account has too much money, exactly $1030 too much money. 1030 is an old army code for immediate assistance required. It can only mean one thing, a former colleague from his army days is in trouble. Jack races to LA, and meets up with Frances Neagley, his very capable former sergeant. Jack’s former team comprised eight people, and one of them is dead. Where are the other five and why aren’t they answering their phones? What was their dead colleague working on and why is Jack being followed by an out of town cop? The stakes are raised as they race off to Las Vegas as the bodies pile up. Fortunately, Neagley has a friend in the Pentagon helping out, although if they fail, thousands of innocent people could die.

A small note, apparently Frances Neagley was a character in the first series of Reacher on Amazon, even though she didn’t appear in the book the series was based upon. She will be returning to reprise her role in the second series, which is based upon this book. As I said, we don’t subscribe to Amazon Prime and haven’t watched the series, although the actor playing Reacher looks more suited to the part than Tom Cruise.

Never Go Back (Book #18)

Jack is in contact with Major Susan Turner, the new commanding officer in the role that Jack used to have, many years ago. Jack goes to meet her and finds out that she has been arrested on trumped up charges. Jack is then informed that there are two outstanding items concerning him, one of which he is arrested for. A murder 16 years ago, and Jack is the prime suspect, the only suspect. On top of this, he is informed that he has a 15 year old daughter, who with her mother have fallen on hard times and are currently living in a car. The final insult is when Jack is informed that he is now back in the army. We then have prison escapes and a race across the country, expecting to find army guns being sold on the black market.

This particular book was made into the second Reacher film staring Tom Cruise, which I haven’t watched.

I have to say that all of the Reacher books that I’ve read so far follow a similar formula. Jack finds himself in danger, makes a few wrong turns, is helped out by an attractive woman, possibly FBI or army, they briefly hook up, everything becomes complicated, everyone nearly dies, Jack saves the day and then disappears into the night. It’s a good formula, and they books are highly addictive. The writing flows nice and easy, even if there might be a little too many descriptive paragraphs.

I’ve given all of these book reviewed above 4 stars, which is almost exactly the average from thousands of people on Goodreads.

As an aside, I am a big fan of the Repairman Jack series of books from F Paul Wilson. In that series, our Jack is often expected to be a larger than life hero, much like Jack Reacher, and people are often disappointed when he turns out to be of a normal size.

Anyway, I’m going to keep on looking in charity shops and second hand bookshops for the remaining hundred books in the series that I’ve not yet read.

Randomize by Andy Weir

Another exclusive Amazon short story which forms part of The Forward Collection, which I know very little about, except that they all look towards the future, and that there are six short stories in the collection.

In the near future Quantum computers will be available to everyone, albeit incredibly expensive. Due to the nature of a Quantum computer, programmers will be able to reverse engineer software designed to produce random numbers, making seemingly random numbers predictable. Someone who really knows what they are doing might be able to guess the numbers for a casino game like Keno. Which is what this great story is all about.

Written by one if the more exciting sci-fi writers out there, Andy Weir rarely fails to hit the spot. So much so, that I will be keeping an eye out for the other five stories in the collection.

Computers struggle to randomize numbers, which is why Lottery’s around the world are very low-tech with number generating, a big rotating ball with all of the numbers on smaller balls inside. There is even a random dice machine, with thousands of dice which are tumbled through the machine, scanned six at a time, and then released back into a large bucket, to be sent on their way again to randomly create dice rolls. A hi-tech/low-tech solution to create truly random dice. Anyway, guessing ‘random’ numbers is often used in story lines, including the modern day version of Sherlock Holmes set in New York.

Funny Ha, Ha: 80 of the Funniest Stories Ever Written

Unfortunately, 75 of these stories were not very funny.

A couple of years ago I was browsing Waterstones and I picked up this mighty tome. The forward was written my Paul Merton, and was incredibly funny. However, the physical version of the book was more than twice the price of the digital version, so I bought the e-book.

The stories are in alphabetical order, with Margaret Attwood one of the first inclusions. The story that she had written was as expected, very funny. From that point on, the book dragged. Most of the stories are old, not necessarily a bad thing, but most of then hadn’t aged well.

One that did tickle me was about a plane ride, with Economy Plus, Economy and Economy Minus. The last three stories were all by Victoria Wood, which were without doubt the best in the book.

Overall a very disappointing book. I gave it 2 out of 5, and the average on Goodreads is only 3, with many scathing reviews.

An Interloper

We have a bird table in our back garden, along with a bird box, bird bath and a number of feeders. The bird seed on the table is mostly eaten by a couple of fat pigeons, but one of the feeders contains a couple of fat sticks, very popular with Blue Tits and Sparrows. Yesterday I spotted a newcomer tucking into the fat sticks.

The photo was taken on my phone, but there was little mouse, happily having a feed for about five minutes, cheeky little interloper, you’re not a bird!

5 things to love about Morecambe

I moved up to Lancaster 15 years ago as a mature student studying Environmental Science. I then stayed on for a Masters and a PhD, and then I met Helen and her silly Pointer Nelly. We’ve been married for over five years now, and it is highly unlikely that we’ll ever move away from Lancaster.

Lancaster is a great city with loads going on, theatres, restaurants and museums, but what about the adjoining town of Morecambe. Often maligned, as many down on their luck seaside resorts are. However, Morecambe is on the up, with a whole range of exciting things to see and do. So without further ado, here is my list of five things to love about Morecambe.

The Midland Hotel

Built in 1932, The Midland Hotel is a magnificent example of an art deco building, lovingly restored and reopened in 2008. Arguably the starting point for the renaissance of Morecambe. The hotel has been used for various episodes of the TV series Agatha Christie’s Poirot. The hotel has an inside bar serving exotic cocktails and a restaurant overlooking the bay, which is also used for breakfast.

The Old Pier Bookshop

Possibly the greatest second hand bookshop in the northwest. A veritable treasure trove full of books waiting to be discovered. An Aladdin’s cave full of nooks and cranny’s, jammed floor to ceiling, and just when you think you’ve browsed everything, you will discover another room off to one side. It’s very easy to lose yourself for an hour or two. I have yet to leave without an armful of books.

Opening times and days can be random, but there are always tables overloaded with books out front when open, and most days they are open from 11am.

Eric Morecambe’s Statue

No visit to Morecambe would be complete with a visit to Eric’s statue, a man synonymous with the town and who definitely doesn’t need further introduction. In the summer don’t be surprised to see queues of people waiting to take their picture with Eric, generally making the same pose from their end of show song and dance. Also take note of the amazing views across the Bay towards the Lake District. On a sunny day it is possible to see the Isle of Man.

The statue is also the official start of the popular Way of the Roses cycle route. 170 miles, quite hilly in places, which goes from Morecambe to Bridlington. Unsupported cyclists generally complete it in three days, and those lucky enough to have a support van following them, complete it in two days.

The Eden Project

You’ve read that correctly. The famous Eden Project in Cornwall is expanding, and a version of the Eden Project will be built two minutes walk from The Midland. This is without doubt one of the most exciting developments for a long time, which will also provide hundreds of jobs in the area. At a cost of £125m it won’t be a poor man’s relative of the original. It is due to open in 2024, and will be on the site of the former Dome theatre. I saw The Fall perform there many years ago. They were as expected. Currently the site isn’t used for much, apart from the occasional funfair. I am incredibly excited to visit, as the Cornish Eden Project is a very long drive away from the north west.

Morecambe Prom Parkrun

Lastly, there is the free weekly timed parkrun. Starting at 9am every Saturday, this flat and fast 5km run is out and back along the prom, passing The Midland, The Eden Project (once open), Eric’s Statue and The Old Pier Bookshop, before you turn around and pass them all again. It can be a bit windy, and the distance from The Midland to the finish line is further than you expect, however, the prom is wide, so you don’t have to push or shove your way to the front if you want to try to set a pb. With an average turnout of 235 runners each week, of all speeds and abilities, you won’t feel out of place. Feel free to take your time and enjoy the views, and be amazed at just how fast the leading runners are going as they past you in the other direction.

I truly believe that Morecambe is a great town. It has been down on it’s luck, like many resorts, for a number of years. There are also some very deprived areas, and if you walk a couple of streets away from the prom you will see plenty of examples. Don’t let this put you off, and don’t just drive on past on your way up the The Lakes, stop for a day, a weekend, or like me, 15 years and counting.

Do mention the fantastic views.

Don’t mention Blobbyland.

Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Stefan Advani has been sent to The Island, a dangerous prison where no one returns from and the Wardens rule with an iron hand with a complete disregard for the lives of the inmates. The Island is set on a lake with vicious serpents and other unknown creatures lurking in the depths. The Marshall, in charge of the Wardens, is even worse, while the Governor is a recluse in the top most level of the prison and is only interested in having the unpublished book from a lost explorer translated. On the boat to the prison, Stefan befriends Peter, who is due to become a new warden. Before being sent to the prison, Stefan had spent his whole life in Shadrapar, the last human city.

The story is set in the very distant future, probably thousands of years in the future, as there are mentions of the sun dying. Mankind has withered and is almost dying as well. There is only one city left on the planet, as far as anyone knows, and technology cannot be rebuilt. As soon as something breaks, no one has the requisite skills to repair it. Society is regressing, while those in power pretend that everything is fine. There are huge deadly monsters roaming free outside of the city, as well as what are called ‘web children’ in the jungles near the island, and almost life size vermin in the under city.

The book is split into five sections, three of them revolve around The Island and the other two the city, although one of them is mostly in the under city. The characters are diverse and well written, and over the book Stefan changes. He starts out as an academic from a lower down family, with very few life skills. Slowly he becomes useful and less of a coward.

Overall a very inventive book from an author who I had never heard of before. I gave the book 4 stars on Goodreads, which is almost exactly the books average, from nearly 5,000 ratings. I will definitely be looking out for more books from Adrian Tchaikovsky in the future.