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And Another Thing...

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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels are much loved by many, and now there is a sixth book in the "trilogy" written by Eoin Colfer titled "And Another Thing...".

I'd never read any of Colfer's works before - presumably because they're aimed at teenagers and I generally avoid such works. I lie of course, as I've read all of the Harry Potter and the Keys to the Kingdom series, but I digress.

The new H2G2 novel takes place directly after Mostly Harmless and follows the characters escaping a doomed Earth (again) and generally being chased around the universe by the Vogons, who are hell bent on destroying every single human. Overall, I quite liked it - it didn't seem quite as inventive or inspired as Douglas Adam's works in places, and somehow "feels" different, but the story works well and the laughs are certainly there (much to my wife's annoyance when I was chortling away reading in bed while she tried to sleep). To criticise too much on minor style issues would be unfair to Colfer though, given the ridiculously high expectations placed upon this book. However, I feel the novel ended a little lazily, performing the vastly overused trick of setting up a definite sequel in the last chapters, rather than wrapping things up.

If you'd like to buy this book, please consider using this Amazon.co.uk link and I'll recieve a tiny commission at no cost to you which will help pay for the hosting of this site. Thank you.

I don't normally read tie in novels for games, films, TV, etc., but I made an exception in this case as the two Mass Effect novels were written by Drew Karpyshyn, the head writer of the game.

Mass Effect: Revelation is a fairly straighforward prequel, filling in the back story between Captain (then Lieutenant) Anderson and Saren. Without giving away any more plot than the back cover of the book, the basic setup is that an Alliance research facility is attacked by an unknown force and Anderson's team is sent in to investigate. It turns out that there is only one survivor, a woman named Kahlee Sanders (I'm assuming her name is pronounced Kay-lee) who left the base only a short time beforehand. She's the obvious prime suspect for the attack, but Anderson sees things differently. There isn't a huge amount of new information in this book that isn't already in the dialogue of the game, but it's nice to see an expanded back story. There is a strange unnatural compulsion of the author to name the fictional manufacturer of every weapon, piece of armour, etc. whenever introduced as though he is simply showing off his knowledge of the Mass Effect universe, but this is a minor niggle.

Mass Effect: Ascension on the other hand, is a much more interesting novel. It is set directly after the end of the game and neatly avoids committing to any of the alternate endings to the game by following Kahlee (now working as a scientist in a elite biotic training school) as she is looking after autistic student Gillian, whose father is a member of a shadowy underground group manipulating the Alliance from within. He is highly conflicted in his dual role as an agent and a father and has become a red sand addict - a drug which gives temporary biotic powers which he uses (or at least started using) to try to better understand his daughter. The book shows us a lot of interesting things only briefly mentioned in the game, such as the Quarian lifestyle in the migrant fleet.

Together the books neatly bookend the first game in the series, and as short paperbacks are fairly cheap and quick to read too!

If you'd like to buy either book in the UK, I would be grateful if you could use the links within this article which will help pay for the hosting and bandwidth for this blog.

The Gargoyle

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I don't often post about the books I read, but I completed The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson recently and found it worth posting about. At it's heart it's a simple love tale, but it's similar in tone to The Time Traveler's Wife in that it tells a rather unconventional story, avoiding the trap of slushy sentimentality.

Told in the first person, which seems to be fashionable these days (or at least I've ended up reading quite a few first person novels lately), it tells the tale of an unnamed drug addicted porn actor who crashes his car and is horrifically burnt in the resulting fire. Much of the early part of the book is spent describing in vivid and almost painful detail his burns and the agonising treatments he receives in hospital. Rather understandably, he spends his time between treatments planning his suicide.

He is constantly tormented by a snake which has taken residence in his spine which is only quieted by large doses of morphine.

He then meets a rather strange woman who wanders in from the psychiatric ward who claims they first met centuries earlier. Intrigued, he allows her to keep visiting and she tells him the story of their medieval life together. Things progress and without spoiling anything, by the end of the book the last thing the last thing on his mind is suicide.

The edges of the pages are printed black to fit in with the burn theme, which forms the only problem with this novel as the black ink transfers onto your hands as you read it.

I'm not really doing the story justice in my description as it probably just sounds a bit odd, but I've really enjoyed reading this book which is even more amazing for being Andrew Davidson's d�but novel.

Nation - Terry Pratchett

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The first surprise for me in reading this book is that when I looked at the map in the opening pages, it didn't look much like Discworld.  In fact, it was a slightly alternate looking map of Earth.  "Huh?", thinks I.

Without spoiling the book, it makes total sense that it's set on Earth and not Discworld as one of the major themes is exploring the question of whether gods exist - of course they do on Discworld, which would make the whole story moot.

However, the book reads like Discworld, with similar structure and devices.  Terry Pratchett has not changed his writing style much lately (except that his last few books have used chapters) and this book is no exception.

Overall, this is a tale that'll make you think, but has little that hasn't been explored a hundred times elsewhere.
I usually hate spoilers, but when Katherine borrowed this book from her sister, I couldn't resist a look.  It's a quick read that serves more as a reminder of what has happened than actually spelling out what will happen. To me, the predictions within it are mostly just common sense, and match up with my own ideas of what will happen.  It doesn't push the reader to think about things very far, making only obvious connections. I'm sure Deathly Hallows will have more to it than this book is telling me. There are other similar books, notably Dave Langford's The End of Harry Potter? which would appear to be much better researched and well written, but this is an easy read that won't stretch your brain.  I think I'll read Dave Langford's book after Harry Potter 7.

Stephen Fry - The Liar

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I borrowed this from a friend.  The blurb on the back says it's hilarious (which usually means it isn't), but the main thing the book left me with was bafflement. It starts out following Adrian Healey in his life as a public schoolboy in England, believing himself better than the rest, apart from one boy with whom he is in love with (though that doesn't stop him from bonking half of the rest of the school) and a teacher, Donald Trefusis who becomes his mentor.  There are interspersed a few chapters written in italics which tell tales of spying and espionage across Europe. The book continues forwards through Adrian's early life, his teaching post and his time at Cambridge University.  He tells the story of how he ran away from home and became a rent boy in London, but at the end the book leaves it ambiguous as to whether this actually happened or not. Then it gets even stranger. I'll admit I leave this book not sure I understood everything it was trying to tell me.
I read The Da Vinci Code a few years ago and wasn't very impressed. It read like a cheap action film to me. An easy fun read, but very over hyped.  I wasn't in any rush to read any more of his books. Imaging my surprise, if you will, when I started to read Angels and Demons and got totally engrossed. It has some of the same awkward writing that the other book has, and also reads like an action film script, but the plot, atmosphere and characters are superb with plenty of clever twists throughout. The book is mostly set in modern day Rome, and I actually visited nearly all of the locations in the city on our holiday there last February.  Knowing the places first hand really helped with the sense of atmosphere for me. I could nit pick the particle physics near the start of the book, but other than that it is surprisingly excellent.  I love the ambigrams.

Incompetence

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I finished this novel by Rob Grant last night.  Like Eddie in the superb Colony, and to some extent Rimmer or Lister in Red Dwarf, it tells the tale of one man's situation going from bad to worse to ludicrous.  Then just as you think it can't get any worse, it does. The story is told from the first person perspective of a secret agent (of some agency or other) who works in a near future United States of Europe, where bureaucracy has reached amazing (though in some ways realistic) heights.  The name of the book is in reference to the law in the USoE which states that people cannot be fired for being incompetent at their jobs.  Our protagonist is on the trail of a lone and very competent murderer. I ploughed through the book really quickly as it was compelling enough to keep me reading another chapter.  It's really inventive and is hilariously funny in parts with some really impressive pacey set pieces. I think this book contains the most impressive and audacious way to catch a train ever commited to paper. Definitely worth a read.

A Confederacy of Dunces

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I finished reading this book last night. It was written by John Kennedy Toole and was published posthumously. This Wikipedia page describes the story of the book better than I can (the link contains some spoilers for the story). I won't give much away here, but the book is set in 1960's New Orleans and tells the tale of Ignatius J Reilly, an educated 30 year old man who lives with his mother and hates modern society completely. It's really funny and clever in places and the ending is quite satisfying - all the more so because Ignatius has no idea what is really going on half the time, preferring to blame the goddess Fortuna and the people around him for everything that is going wrong in his life. I can highly recommend giving it a read.
I'm in the middle of reading this book and thoroughly enjoying it. If you've not read any of the Science of Discworld books before, they are a series of books that are fairly easy to misinterpret the contents of from the cover (unlike for example, an issue of Heat magazine, where you know exactly what's in it from the cover). Far from being a fictional science trying to explain how a giant disc floating on four elephants and a turtle can function, it instead approaches modern science in our universe. Alternate chapters are a fictional setting where the wizards of Unseen University have accidentally created our universe in their High Energy Magic lab and are trying to figure out how a universe with no Discworld like gods, giant turtles or magic can function (and still produce humans). They then occasionally intervene to make sure certain events happen. For example, they make sure Charles Darwin writes The Origin of Species in this particular outing. The chapters in between are a serious discussion of the real science behind what the wizards are observing, covering concepts as evolution, the mathematics of infinity, whether a time machine is mathematically possible (more importantly, is it physically feasible?), how various indirect evidence has led us to our current understanding of the age of the earth and universe, the various theories of the many worlds multiverse, etc. I find this kind of thing really interesting. They also take a fairly dim view of religion (like myself), ripping creationists to shreds (if people cannot believe the mountains of evidence in front of them, why do they place all their faith in a single inconsistent book?). In a way, the books are similar to Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything which covers a lot of similar scientific ground aimed at a general audience. However, I feel the Science of Discworld books are a better read - mainly because the scientific understanding and narrative are deeper and the authors try to make serious points in order to make you think differently. Also, they make the point that despite the wizards making obvious errors in their understanding of our universe, these are the same misunderstandings that past (and current) scientists have made.

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