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Saturday, September 14, 2019

My Reviews Of. . .



Three Laws Lethal
It’s been a long time since I sat down to read a book, only to find myself going from cover to cover in two days.
I did exactly that with “Three Laws Lethal”, the latest offering from David Walton. And you might appreciate why. The topic of Artificial Intelligence is not only current, but it’s the subject of much controversy and conjecture.
A superb avenue, therefore, to introduce us to the driving force behind our story.
Why? Think about it. We already have cars that can park themselves and carry out all sorts of complicated maneuvers unassisted.  Some can even project images of the road ahead onto a screen or heads-up display on the windshield during conditions of reduced visibility. So, why not take that one step further?
Walton does, and uses it as the foundation on which to build his world:
It’s the very near future and self-driving cars are now a reality. As you might expect, competition is fierce, especially among the big-name car manufacturers. Two friends at college have a dream to cut in on the market by developing a state-of-the-art predictive system to beat everything else that’s available. And beat it they do . . . only, not in the way you would expect.
The road to success is beset by hazards, you see. Tragedy leads to heartbreak. Heartbreak to a fierce rivalry that festers over the years into a deep abiding hatred. And behind it all, an emerging intelligence begins to comprehend it can do more; much more, that simply follow instructions.
Yes, what happens when the real and virtual worlds collide?
Well, strap in and hang on! You’re about to find out in a story that’s so believable, you’ll never want to turn control of your safety over to a machine! And THAT’s what I particularly enjoyed about this book. I’m something of a physics geek myself. The fact that the science incorporated into the storyline already has a toehold in society makes you forget you’re reading a sci-fi novel.
Kudos to David Walton.
“Three Laws Lethal” – a story as immersive as the VR it portrays.



Stranger Things 3
As any discerning connoisseur will affirm, you can have all the right ingredients at the ready, but unless you mix them together in the right order, at the right time and in the right way, you won’t produce a Michelin star class meal.
And when it comes to producing a masterful recipe, Stranger Things 3 sets the bar.
This time around, the gang are doing their best to settle into their lives after sealing the rift between dimensions and the loss of someone close to them. A degree of normalcy returns, so much so, that life might be said to be boring.
But fear not, pesky Russian villains have infiltrated Hawkins, and they’re up to mischief. Somehow, they’ve managed to set up a huge underground base beneath the town’s new shopping mall where they’re working hard to reopen the rift. Of course, the malevolence lurking on the other side doesn’t need an invitation to resume its dastardly schemes, and in no time at all, local residents start acting strangely.
As the mind flayer consolidates its hold, you could be forgiven for thinking revenge will be the sweetest of dishes served with a garnish of dead bodies.
Not if the gang has anything to do with it!
Once they learn what is happening, they set out in their own unique ways to spoil the broth that is brewing right under their feet: A touch of mood setting here; a dash of 1980’s kitsch there; a liberal sprinkling of fast paced witty dialogue; all stirred into a sound base of cast interaction that blends everything together into a wonderfully enjoyable runaway extravaganza served with a cherry on top.
It really is great stuff, and guaranteed to please the hundreds and thousands who are bound to binge on this third serving of one of the best shows on TV at the moment.
Roll on series 4.

Friday, September 6, 2019

My Thoughts On. . .



The Robots of Gotham
Smart machines are here – whatever the laws banning the development of AI might be – and they’re here to stay. They’ve made sure of that, in the post apocalyptic future in which The Robots of Gotham is set.
Canadian businessman, Barry Simcoe, arrives in 2083 Chicago only days before the hotel in which he is staying is attacked by a rogue war machine. In the chaos that ensues, he ends up accused of murder, makes the acquaintance of a badly damaged robot called Nineteen Black Winter and, while awaiting interrogation, chips in to help an overworked, understaffed Russian medic.
It’s as this hotchpotch of events come together that Barry stumbles upon a machine conspiracy to reduce mankind to nothing more than a token species by way of a deadly plague. Obviously, he wants to do something about it. And as he begins his hopelessly inept investigation, he ends up committing himself – and his new friends – to a helter-skelter ride that rapidly spirals out of control.
How much out of control?
Trigger-happy revolutionaries; maniacal scientists; bloodthirsty tyrants; hidden robot colonies; genocidal war machines; James Bond scenarios. Barry has to face them all, and still find time to arrange a charity dinner for Chicago’s elite while maintaining the charade of total, bumbling innocence.
Never a dull moment in this compulsive, fast paced and thoroughly engaging romp through a future that could all too easily overtake us. And on a personal note, I DO hope to see Barry Simcoe again one day.
Brilliant!




Jessica Jones – Series 3
Sadly, this is the last we will see of Jessica Jones – a wonderfully gritty series ended before its time due to inter-company politics. (sigh).
Jessica is a reluctant hero; powered; outcast; looked upon by some with suspicion and other with grudging respect. Her nemesis this time around is a polymathic serial-killer. Someone without powers who, nevertheless, strives to excel at everything while daring anyone who thinks they're intelligent enough to catch him. And when his activities inadvertently catch the eye of Jessica Jones? Well, it’s gloves off and game on in a tit-for-tat game that becomes increasingly vindictive and deadly with each passing day. Ingenious stuff, and as compelling as ever.
Jessica Jones maintains the bar that Marvel failed to sustain with any of their other TV shows – except for Daredevil – with polish aplomb. A pity viewers will have to suffer the end of one of the best shows Netflix ever had.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Review Time


The Book of the Unnamed Midwife
The long anticipated fall of mankind is the subject matter of this first book in the “Road to Nowhere” series. And like any tragedy waiting to happen, it takes people by surprise. Before the world realizes what they’re dealing with, it’s already too late and we’re facing a mass extinction event.
The thing that really makes an impact with this story is that no one knows why! And that’s a poignantly powerful statement to make . . . and a humbling one too, because let’s face it; the majority of humanity doesn’t give two hoots about what we’re doing to the planet or our environment. Not until it affects them personally, that is. And in the Unnamed Midwife, it does, with bells on!
All the scant survivors do know is that whatever the pandemic was, it hit suddenly; it hit hard; and very few were able to endure. Of those that did, men were in the majority, for the plague proved especially virulent among pregnant women and newborns. In the aftermath, pregnancy becomes a death sentence. A dilemma for any female old enough to bear children in a society that spirals into chaos and hormone-riddled rape gangs.
Told from the perspective of a nurse – and one of the few females to survive – the Unnamed Midwife details her personal journey from successful career woman into an existence fuelled by isolation and fear of discovery. Part story – part extract from her journal, its a haunting, gripping indictment of inhuman nature at its bases level, and sums up what would most likely happen if such a thing ever happened.
Powerful stuff. And a compelling read.


Chernobyl
This mini-series is lesson in how to present fictional drama.
I’m sure we’ve all heard of Chernobyl. The date of April 26th 1986 will be etched on the minds of many as the day one of the worst man-made catastrophes ever unfurled.
The TV mini-series dramatizes the story of that event, and is based – for the most part – on the recollections of those living in Pripyat at the time by Belarusian Nobel Laureate, Svetlana Alexievich in her book, “Voices from Chernobyl”.
I’ve got to say, I was really impressed by this series. It’s a powerful, deeply disturbing account of how a tragic accident rapidly declined from bad to worse. And why? In a nutshell, the political ethos of the time in the Soviet Union was that the “party line” came first . . . or else!
That “line” allowed former shoe factory managers to dictate policy on issues they simply weren’t prepared or qualified to handle, leading to hundreds of needless deaths. That brutal reality was portrayed by a strong cast and superb directing where the brooding menace of the regime almost overshadowed the tragedy as it unfurled: The refusal to accept the facts; disbelief of those qualified to make accurate assessments; the negligence involved in sending countless heroes – the firemen, miners and soldiers tasked to contain the outbreak – to their deaths as they battled to contain a force they didn’t understand.
Gripping, compelling, and infuriating, to say the least. And a poignant reminder to us all as to how fragile we are, and how little we understand the powers we play with.



Friday, August 16, 2019

This Week's Thoughts On. . .


Dead Moon
You’d be forgiven for thinking that with the kind of life Samantha Moon has led, not much would take her by surprise anymore?
You’d be wrong!
Still immortal, yet free of the presence of Elizabeth – the dark master that empowered her when she first became a vampire – Sam is adjusting well to her new condition and the freedom this brings to spend much more time with her family . . . if having a telepathic daughter and Light Warrior son can be construed as normal . . . Ah, if only things could stay that way.
Why? She’s suddenly struck by a strong premonition of foreboding while watching TV when a young zombie woman suddenly turns to face her from within the show, and reaches out to her, begging for help.
But even in the topsy-turvy paranormal world of Samantha Moon, there’s no such thing as zombies . . . Right?
Thus begins an adventure that forces Sam to realize she might be rid of her dark master, but so are a whole host of other supernatural entities. And those dark masters are celebrating their freedom by fomenting something. Something awful. Something evil. Massing together, they’re forming unholy alliances that simply shouldn’t be considered, for such alliances will spell the end of mankind.
Unless Samantha Moon lends a hand.
Enjoy yourself. You just know it’s going to be fun!


The OA – Series 2

This time out, OA finds herself in a new dimension in a different version of herself; a rich and successful version where she never suffered the accident that blinded her as a child. An excellent start, you might think. However, the rose tinted spectacles of new expectations quickly become clouded when she realizes she isn’t safe. Her adversary, Hap, is there too. His version is a prominent psychiatrist heading a successful psychiatric hospital where he lures unwilling victims to continue his abusive experiments.
You might guess what happens. . .
Even so, it’s not plain sailing for anybody. OA also crosses paths with Karim Washington, a private detective tasked with finding missing teenager, Michelle Vu, who goes missing inside an eerie old house in another part of the neighborhood.
What’s the link? Find out for yourselves in a multilayered tale that expands on the original series in a skilful and redolent way, blending the two together so provocatively that you’re held spellbound throughout because a part of you – deep down inside – relates to what’s happening on a subliminal level.
Quality viewing. I look forward to series 3 with anticipation.

Friday, August 2, 2019

This Weeks Thoughts On. . .



Necropolis PD
The fine folks over at Black gate Fantasy provided the inspiration to try this story out. And I’m sooo pleased they did, because it’s an absolute gem.
Jacob Green can see dead people. Lots of them . . . everywhere!
How come?
A good deed at the scene of a car accident turns bad. Very bad. So much so, that it’s not the victim of the crash who is in dire need of help. And when Jacob pursues the offender into a disused tunnel under a bridge, he finds out to his cost that the tunnel isn’t disused at all. It’s a conduit leading to an in-between place where those who have passed on live out their unlives as they did before they died: A place called Necropolis.
Of course, not only should it be impossible for Necropolis to exist, but its denizens can’t possibly allow Jacob to leave now he knows of its existence.
Things look bleak until one of the undead winds up murdered. And because of his unique perspective, Jacob is pressed into service as a detective to help solve the case.
That’s when things start getting really complicated, and Jacob spirals from one disaster to another, somehow only just managing to keep his head above water . . . and all the time, he’s watching and waiting for the first opportunity to escape.
How does he fare?
Find out, in this action packed, roister-doister tale that sits easily on the eye and dark humor funny bone (Think of a blend of RIPD and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and you’ll be on the right track).
A great story and superb debut novel from an author I shall gladly read again.



Good Omens

Having read the book, a cunning and exceedingly funny conspiracy by two of the most humorous guys on (and off) the planet (Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman) I had high expectations for the TV adaptation.
Ouch! (Yes I know . . . I’m an idiot!)
True to form, cutting satire, wit, and a heady imagination don’t translate well from print to screen. A shame, because the story – based on “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” – expounds the story of the birth of the son of Satan and the coming of the end times. A terribly important even, I’m sure you’ll agree, and one that would concern all right-minded people.
The thing is, it concerns the two representatives of heaven and hell left on Earth since the times of the Garden of Eden even more. Aziraphale – the angel, and Crowley, the serpent who tempted Eve – have become quite accustomed to living amongst humans. And even though they’re supposed to be polar opposites reporting back to their respective “HQs” in preparation for an eventual Armageddon, they’ve become firm friends; cutting corners here, slipping the odd false report in there; taking credit for mankind’s perverseness or ingenuity when the mood takes them.
As such, when the antichrist is born and the end times loom, they go out of their way to put the proverbial spanner in the works. Their solution? Swap several children born at the same time so the antichrist grows up as a normal child in an average family in a quaint English town.
The result?
What follows is pure magical mayhem as the monumental balls-up is unearthed and Crowley and Aziraphale struggle to put things right against an increasing avalanche of woe. Also, credit where credit’s due: David Tennant and Michael Sheen do incredibly well portraying our two main protagonists, Crowley and Aziraphale in a cast comprised of swings and roundabouts. Some characters are superb, hitting the mark exactly. Others? – Oh dear!
But the thing that really spoiled it for me was the “back voice.” In the book, the authors address YOU, the reader, with witty expose and details that draw you in. Here’s an example:

“It wasn't a dark and stormy night.
It should have been, but that's the weather for you. For every mad scientist who's had a convenient thunderstorm just on the night his Great Work is finished and lying on the slab, there have been dozens who've sat around aimlessly under the peaceful stars while Igor clocks up the overtime.
But don't let the fog (with rain later, temperatures dropping to around forty five degrees) give anyone a false sense of security. Just because it's a mild night doesn't mean that dark forces aren't abroad. They're abroad all the time. They're everywhere.
They always are. That's the whole point.
Two of them lurked in the ruined graveyard. Two shadowy figures, one hunched and squat, the other lean and menacing, both of them Olympic grade lurkers. If Bruce Springsteen had ever recorded “Born to Lurk,” these two would have been on the album cover. They had been lurking in the fog for an hour now, but they had been pacing themselves and could lurk for the rest of the night if necessary, with still enough sullen menace left for a final burst of lurking around dawn.”

This excerpt is taken from the beginning of the book and helps set the scene of two demons waiting for Crowley to arrive with the antichrist babe. When you read it in context, you can’t help but smile at the images conjured in your mind. It’s pithy; it’s punchy; and certainly puts you in the mood for what follows. When I watched this part on the TV, however, I cringed. It totally ruined the atmosphere of what I’d originally imagined and to me, was a nails across a chalkboard moment that broke the magic . . . as do a minority of the characters.
But there you go. THAT’s why reading + imagination are often far superior to a screen production.
(For an in-depth review - see my latest article over at Amazing Stories). 


Saturday, July 20, 2019

My Thoughts On. . .



Artesans of Albia – Circle of Conspiracy
Though Lord Rykan is dead, his legacy of rebellion lives on. A legacy that not only threatens the safety of King Elias and Hierarch Aeyron, but the world itself.
But who would dare such an outlandish scheme? And why? Even worse, how might Colonel Sullyan’s own family be implicated?
One thing’s for sure, the poison of treachery runs deep on both sides of the veil, and it will be costly indeed to excise it forever.
The Circle of Conspiracy, a well-paced and delightful romp through the world of artesans that grants you a deeper insight into one of the best, well thought-out magical systems I’ve seen in years. (It really is that good). Not only does the story involve you from beginning to end, but its great fun and well worth the effort of reading all three books in one go.





Orange is the New Black: Seasons 1 - 6
Some might not be aware, but Orange is the New Black is based on the real life experiences and subsequent memoir of Piper Kerman, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, who spent 13 months at FCI Danbury.

The TV series revolves around Piper Chapman, a woman in her thirties living in New York City who is sentenced to 15 months in Litchfield Penitentiary – a women’s minimum-security prison – after being convicted of transporting a suitcase full of drug money 10 years previously for her then girlfriend, Alex Vause, an international drug smuggler.
Because the offense had been committed 10 years previously, Piper had settled down and moved on with her life. She was now law-abiding and due to get married to her fiancé in the near future.
The series sets out to show how Piper’s circumstances are turned upside down by her incarceration, especially as she is reunited with her former lover, Vause, who involved her in crime in the first place.
Along the way, we see how Piper – along with all the other inmates – struggle with the inherent problems of trying to balance petty rules with the underground code existing behind bars. Each series brings something new, with flashbacks helping you see how each main character ended up in jail, and especially what makes them tick.
To provoke contention, the series incorporated added tension from the collapse of the prison and its takeover by the Management & Correction Corporation (MCC). Standards drop, allowing the introduction of new guards. Some are clearly not up to scratch, while others are psychologically unhinged, creating a melting pot of simmering discontent. That discontent comes to a head when a prisoner is killed, and series 4 ends in the instigation of a full-blown riot.
Series 5 continues with the revolt itself. Some prisoners attempt to negotiate better conditions and seek justice for the dead inmate and her family. Others pursue their own interests and behave like animals. A few tuck themselves away, trying to avoid conflict on all sides.
Unfortunately, the guard who incited the riot in the first place is critically wounded by an inmate. This ultimately leads to disaster, for SWAT teams storm the building and drag the women away. Season 5 ends with them being driven away in buses to new destinations.
The consequences of the riot are shown in season 6. Chapman – along with a number of her fellow inmates – are transported to Litchfield Maximum Security. Investigators are looking who to blame, and the girls have to tread very carefully to avoid the “life” or 10 year sentences being dished out with liberal abandon and no real effort to discover exactly what went on.
There you go – a brief synopsis all in one breath. The thing is, I don’t think any amount of writing would do this series justice (get it?) J I’d seen it advertised for some time and ignored it, only to give it a go on a whim.
Guess what? I took to it almost immediately, as it not only concentrates on how prison life will change even the most decent of people, but also how various forms of corruption, funding cuts, privatization, guard brutality and discrimination can make a bad situation much, much worse. And the kick-in-the-teeth? We all know this happens!
A poignant, moral reminder to us all.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

This Week's Review Of...


The Power That Preserves
In the Power that Preserves, Stephen Donaldson brings the First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever to an end.
Lord Foul has mastered the Illearth Stone, altering the course of nature. The Land has been seized in the grip of a devastating winter that leeches all life away. Everything will die and the Arch of Time will fall. . .
. . .Unless Thomas Covenant accepts the Land and its predicament is real.
Sick to the back teeth of being used, by Foul; by the Creator; by the Lords and everyone he comes across, Covenant chooses another way and embraces the paradox he represents in one of the best face-offs between good and evil ever written.
A truly stunning conclusion to one of the best adventures ever written.


Lucifer – Series 4
For those of you who have already seen the show, Lucifer has the premise of the devil walking the earth while helping a detective solve murders. Rather odd, on the face of it, but as fans will know, there’s an odd link between Lucifer and Chloe, and the two are drawn together by forces beyond their control.
Based loosely on the character introduced by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg in DC’s The Sandman comic series, Lucifer has built an overwhelmingly loyal fanbase that helped save the show when Fox said they were going to cancel it at the end of series 3.
The ruckus they caused came to the attention of Netflix, who took the show on and – I have to say – kept a successful recipe bubbling nicely, even adding a spot of spice to it in some places. Lucifer series 4 is crisp, dark, sexy and brimming with superbly handled special effects. It’s irreverent, gory, fun, and downright entertaining.
This season concentrates on the deeper aspects of each main character, and of course, lets us see how Chloe handles the truth now she knows Lucifer really is THE devil. To ensure the calm waters of plain sailing aren’t allowed to make things too rosy, we have the addition of two new characters: Eve – yes, the woman who took the fruit from the tree in Eden and Lucifer's first girlfriend; and Father Kinley, a priest devoted to hunting the devil and preventing the fulfillment of a prophecy spelling the end of the world.
As I mentioned, Netflix ties things together rather nicely, even relating back to a prophecy mentioned in series 1 that adds a touch of ‘rightness’ to the developing plotline. And well it should, for it is intimated its fulfillment might cast a pall of doubt over Lucifer and Chloe’s relationship.
And THAT’s what it’s all about! Will they . . . won’t they?
Ah, you’ll see. And unlike the hordes in hell, you’ll be begging for more.