Leviathan Wakes

I often like to read something a bit different at the beginning of the year, in the spirit of new-ness, and so on, though last year it didn’t happen until June. I’ve discovered some really excellent stuff this way, which I’ll talk about later in the week. This year, after coming across mention of the sci-fi series The Expanse, I decided to plunge into the first novel, and over the course of nearly three weeks of January, I’ve been enraptured by the whole thing! (I’m going to try to avoid spoilers here).

The Expanse is set in the future of mankind, where we have finally made it out from Earth’s gravity well and onto Mars, and from there to the asteroid belt. The first thing that struck me about this book is, while it’s definitely science fiction, it isn’t difficult to understand. I mean, some sci-fi I’ve read in the past has been a bit too “techy”, but it also employs a lot of ridiculous language, almost in an attempt to justify its existence and legitimacy. Whatever. Leviathan Wakes is fairly straightforward prose, which lets you concentrate on the evolving story much easier.

At around the 550-page mark, it’s a good chunk of book for your money, and feels just about right in terms of the pacing. A lot happens over the course of the book, and there are very few extraneous scenes, which I appreciate a whole lot! I’m a fairly slow reader, as I usually take the time to imagine the worlds laid before me, right down to the accents of the characters and whatnot. In terms of world-building, Leviathan Wakes builds itself alongside the action, which I appreciate because of the fact so many books seem to set aside a great chunk of space to building up the locations and situations, all while trying to be foreboding, but the general result is a very boring description of politics and so forth, with next to no action. Here, we learn as we go, and for something so simple, it’s really effective.

On the flip-side, there are still a lot of questions left unanswered at the end. First of all, we never see Earth or Mars in this time period (though we do have a couple of interesting snippets of info about what has happened to Earth). For me, one of the more interesting aspects of futurist sci-fi such as this is seeing what has happened to Earth, but we don’t visit. A tantalising mention if made of “turning the red planet green”, and we understand Mars to have some kind of atmospheric domes on its surface, but we also don’t learn much about the first colony, either.

What we do get, however, is a lot of the Belt. Ceres and Eros, in particular, with Tycho being a close third. Now, space has never been my forte, and when the story refers to “Ceres station” and so forth, I was envisaging a space station, like an oil rig floating in the void and so on. It wasn’t until quite later on in the story that I realised these are bored-out asteroids. Well, anyway. For the unprepared, some research might be useful!

The story, then, has a believable air to it, as we see what our future could very easily turn out to be. That is something that I particularly enjoyed, how much it was entirely possible. While the books take great delight in quoting George RR Martin, “kickass space opera”, I would not personally class this as such – Star Wars is space opera, where the limitations of physics don’t really matter. The Expanse is a series where people can’t travel at certain speeds unless doped-up with drugs (“juice”) to compensate, whereas Han Solo floors his way through an asteroid field while everyone just hangs about without so much as a seatbelt on. (James SA Corey is the pen-name for the writing duo of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, the latter is GRRM’s writing assistant. Just so you know.)

The book is told from two points of view, those of Jim Holden and (Joe) Miller. The former is an idealist officer on a water freighter, the latter is a jaded Belter cop. Holden and his small crew really go through the ringer on this one, but I consistently found myself irritated by him. Miller, on the other hand, while working through several cliches, actually ends up the more interesting character, in my mind. The supporting characters are all really well-drawn, if again a little stereotypical.

It’s Miller’s storyline that actually gives this book it’s must-read status, for me, and has been the catalyst to my recommending it to folks. There is a strong element of the noire-detective-drama to his story, which coupled with the setting make this book approach the realms of Philip K Dick. Of course, it’s not a Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, but it’s certainly somewhere in that family tree.

This brings me on to perhaps the biggest criticism I can make of this book. All of the ingredients are there, but the limitations of just two point-of-view characters have resulted in a severely handicapped storytelling canvas. The noire plotline is executed really nicely, with (I thought) an absolutely stunning conclusion. The inter-system warfare between Earth, Mars and the Belt has something lacking due to not seeing anyone in power on the two planets. We know what happens, but because of who we’re seeing it through, it all seems to be one big mess. I’d have preferred to have seen more of the politics involved from the two planets, which would also give a good look at the new governments and so on. And finally, we have the megacorp Protogen, but they’re almost a plastic villain, with disappointingly little developed there. However, these have all come to me after the fact, and certainly didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the book at the time!

(Incidentally – I thought Miller did the right thing, which is what made Holden so much more annoying to me. You’ll know what I mean when you read this book!)

All in all, this book is awesome. The limitations I just mentioned are completely overlooked in favour of the fantastic storytelling that we do have. This is also the first book in a series, so it’s entirely possible this is merely setting something else up. Certainly, the epilogue has got me thinking several plotlines could be in the works next! Can Fred be trusted? Just what is happening on Venus?

If you’d like to read io9’s review, which is also quoted on the cover, check it out here.

For Geekritiqued’s review, the blog where I first heard of the series, take a look here.

Then head over to amazon and buy yourself a copy!

Ah, the weekend!

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Hey everyone!
The first week of the new year back at work is down, and it seems everything is back to normal for another eleven months. Joyous. Well it’s been a pretty slow week, as I’ve been trying to get caught up with the degree, which I finally got to this afternoon. But let’s take a look at some more interesting stuff…

Force and Destiny

Back in 2012, Fantasy Flight Games announced the model for their Star Wars RPG line, which took off the following year with Edge of the Empire, which allowed us to play on the galactic fringe as smugglers and colonists. Last year saw Age of Rebellion, which introduced the good people of the Rebellion to the system. Finally, 2015 will see the third “branch” of the system, Force and Destiny, which allows players to create Force-user characters. As with the previous games, the line is launched with the beginner game that will teach you the rules as you play. Wonderful! Now if I can just find enough people to get a game going…

Visions of Dawn

FFG have also announced a fifth Hero and Monster Collection for Descent, Visions of Dawn. I have nothing to say about this beyond – take a look at that manticore! Though I’m excited to see Nara the Fang enter the fray…

Drakon

Now this is very exciting. Drakon has been intriguing me for what seems like an age, but has been out of print for just as long, meaning it has been attracting ridiculous prices on the aftermarket. It seems like a really interesting game, though, a little reminiscent of Dungeonquest. With a new edition on the horizon, however, I’m hoping that finally I can investigate this thing!

I’ve played quite a lot of Shadows of Brimstone over the New Year weekend, and it’s really begun to grow on me now. I’ve spent some time in the Targa Plateau, and later exploring the swamps of Jargono with a couple of the characters from both sets, and it’s been a really enjoyable experience! I still think the town could do with some tweaks, but in the main, it’s pretty amazing!

Wonderful times! I’m intending to get some more games in soon, then I’ll feature the game in a full game-day blog!

I follow a tumblr, allthingswarhammer, which features pretty much anything that is tagged with #warhammer on instagram. Last week, I came across the above picture, which started the cogs whirring in my mind!

See, I haven’t painted anything since before Christmas, and have been feeling in something of a painting funk, lacking any sort of motivation to get anywhere. The Necrons have, therefore, been gathering dust in the corner. However, Ogres! These chaps really captured my imagination, along with the Yhetees, of course, so I popped along to the local games shop and got a box of Mounfang Cavalry. Taking pretty much the entire week to build them, I have to say I was very happy with the results!

I don’t know, they just look fun! The best part is that I’ve started painting again, though! Not very much so far, but still! I’m painting them with purple/lilac skin, a sort of Slaaneshi scheme. I think it looks pretty great so far, anyway! I’m glad to be painting again, as it has been very enjoyable, so…yeah…

Warhammer Ogre Kingdoms

And finally, I thought I’d leave you with a book recommendation!

There’s an excellent blog here on WordPress, Geekritique, which featured an upcoming look at the fantasy and sci-fi books of 2015 back on New Year’s Day. I can’t say all 25 of the blighters leapt off the, er, screen, but two of them certainly captured my interest enough to buy the first in the respective series, as shown in the tweet above. Well, I started reading Leviathan Wakes last weekend and have to say it’s been pretty damn awesome so far! What with everything else going on, and my usual snail’s-pace reading, I’m only just about halfway through, but I haven’t felt this energised about a novel for a long time, let me tell you! I’ve actually bought the second in the series already, it’s that promising! I think what I appreciate most about the story is the Philip K Dick-esque feel, a sort of noire-future, almost. It’s highly recommended, at any rate!

The Terminator

Hey everybody!
Today I want to talk a bit about The Terminator, one of the classics of sci-fi out there!

The Terminator

I’m in no way an expert about this stuff, I just enjoy it for what it is!

Terminator is one of the franchises that has a strong resonance with my youth, along with similar stuff like Judge Dredd and the like. I do love a good dystopia, and I suppose Terminator is one of the classics of the genre! The first film, from 1984, I only remember in parts (such as the nightclub chase sequence and the hydraulic press), but the second film, of 1991, was really a big thing when I was growing up, and I suppose I was at the sort of age where I was just a little too young to be able to see it, which made it take on a whole new lustre!

The rise of self-aware machines is, I think, a fantastic social commentary on the so-called “progress” of mankind, where we are determined to make ourselves obsolete. At times, it genuinely frustrates me, but as presented in the Terminator franchise, it’s not all that bad, and I can enjoy them for the human-rebellion aspect. Time travel is something that I usually try to stay away from, as it’s so often not done well, but that’s never been an issue for me with this, I suppose because the story is essentially ensuring the future happens as it is supposed to, and not changing it. But anyway.

The first movie is a really awesome piece of theatre. As with a lot of film franchises, Terminator suffers from having such an incredible first film, nothing that follows can really measure up to it. The pacing has, quite rightly, been lauded as being particularly tight, leading to some incredibly tense moments, and the action sequences are phenomenal. And is there anything more freaky than Arnie with no eyebrows?! When I first watched the film as an adult, something that first struck me was how the love story felt a bit tacked-on and, while not false, still a little forced. However, re-watching the film last night, it felt a lot more natural, with a lot of subtlety that I hadn’t picked up on the first time I watched it. It’s also worth mentioning that the soundtrack is just phenomenal, and really helps create the overall ambience of the film.

The second film, for me, doesn’t have the same “classic” feeling, instead becoming a product of its time – the early 90s, when punk had somehow become softened into an acceptable norm, and people are dropping f-bombs like there’s no tomorrow. It feels inferior to the first film when seen in close proximity, but otherwise it’s a pretty good movie, and well worth the watch. The T-1000 stuff was particularly groundbreaking at the time, and even today holds up really well, I think. I suppose the thing that puts me off the most is the fact that the story necessarily involves a lot of kid-time, as Schwarzenegger’s T-800 is sent back in time to protect the young John Connor. It still has a lot of nostalgia, though, and if nothing else, and a lot of fantastic action sequences!

Something else I’d like to mention is the comic 2029-1984, which is one of the best movie tie-in products I’ve ever come across. It’s from Dark Horse Comics, so you know you’re getting some good stuff, and I believe this is the last arc they’ve published. As its name suggests, the comic takes place partly in the post-apocalyptic 2029, and then in 1984, immediately after the first film ends. The story follows Ben, a freedom fighter alongside Kyle in the future, who is sent back to 1984 with his own mission and forms what can honestly be called Terminator 1.5. Something that I really enjoyed was the government’s reaction to Kyle’s interrogation tape, and fun little bits like this make it a real delight to read. I’ve not read any other Terminator comics, though it seems that most of them aren’t worth the time, but this one is a great read, and I can highly recommend it!!

So yeah, such are my thoughts! Stay tuned for more movie ramblings from me in the future, though, as I hope to make this something of a thing!

The Minority Report

Hey everyone!

It’s a new week, and I’m off work again, so to get the celebrations started, I thought I’d ramble a bit about a short story I read last night, The Minority Report, by Philip K Dick.

Minority Report

I first read this story back in 2002, when the Spielberg film came out and it looked really exciting in the trailers. I’ve got to admit, I did actually enjoy the film when I saw it, as it was a nice futuristic piece and whatnot. But then I read the short story on which it was based, and I suddenly lost a lot of my earlier admiration. See, while the film is a good piece of cinema, with lots of action and lots of intrigue, the story has got so much more depth, it has so much more subtext, it generally succeeds at telling its story much better than the film, which appears mainly to entertain.

The story follows Commissioner John Anderton, the head of the PreCrime Agency in New York at some nebulous future date, as he appears to have been framed for a crime he has not yet committed. PreCrime uses the abilities of three mutants that can see into the future to predict when crimes will be committed and apprehend the would-be criminals before any violent act. Anderton’s own name comes up as the perpetrator of the murder of a man he doesn’t know, the day his eventual replacement at the Agency starts, Ed Witwer. Anderton, an aging cop, tries to escape the net he knows will close around him once he is suspected of a future murder, but is picked up by agents of the man he is said to be plotting to kill, a retired Army general named Leopold Kaplan. It eventually surfaces that Anderton is being framed, but not by Witwer, who he assumed to be after his job and his young wife. After years of peace, the Army has been sidelined by the Police, especially the PreCrime Agency, so Kaplan intends to discredit the agency by using his agents to keep Anderton safe and, when the ex-Commissioner fails to kill Kaplan, prove the flaw of the system.

However, the basic premise of the Agency is called into question when the mechanics are scrutinized. The three mutant precogs never agree perfectly on how the future crime will take place, but a majority report is generated out of the three reports, with a minority report being rejected as false. Anderton discovers that the minority report was generated slightly after the earlier reports, and stated that Anderton, with the knowledge of his name on the majority report, decided not to commit the crime. His vindication is short-lived, however, when he realises he has been manipulated by the Army, and on further examination of the other two reports, it transpires that all three were, in effect, minority reports. At an Army rally against the PreCrime Agency, where Kaplan, now armed with the three reports, Anderton decides he must uphold the system rather than worry about his personal welfare, and so kills Kaplan. Witwer, now Commissioner of PreCrime, commutes his life sentence to exile to an outlying planet, and in the closing pages it is revealed that, while the first report determined Anderton would kill Kaplan, and the second decreed that he would not after receiving that foreknowledge, the third report was based on the earlier two, and prophesied that Anderton would indeed kill Kaplan in order to preserve the integrity of the PreCrime system. His parting words to Witwer warn that this situation can only ever happen again to the Commissioner of PreCrime.


 

It’s a really fascinating read! The sort of wheels-within-wheels philosophy of free will, and whether you would choose to carry out a deed if you thought it was preordained is called into question throughout the thirty-or-so pages. The justice system that bases itself on the notion of PreCrime – imprisoning effectively innocent people – is also a nice moral issue.

The precogs themselves raised some interesting questions for me, too. Described as “idiots” and said to be babbling nonsense, which is only converted into reports of premeditated crimes after computer analysis, it raised the question – does it really work? Or is it really just nonsense? The notion of a government investing heavily in a system that is fundamentally flawed is of course raised, but becomes much more interesting if that system isn’t just flawed, but is actually plain wrong, is irresistible!

The movie differs significantly from the story, even on small points, so as to almost exist as a separate entity in itself. As such, I feel it is possible to appreciate both. Unfortunately, however, the sense of depth provided by the state of animosity that developed between the Police and the Army is completely absent from the film, which uses an altogether different scheme for the events that follow Anderton on the run. But anyway.

As the picture above shows, I have two volumes of Dick’s short stories, as well as the famous Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, so you can prepare for more as the weeks roll on, I’m sure!!

The War of the Worlds

Hey everyone! It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve actually made any post of substance here, what with the exam and all, but now that that’s all behind me I’m hoping to be writing some more. I can already hear the shouts for joy. Today, I thought it would be nice to reminisce on a book I read almost twelve months ago, and which I was utterly captivated by, HG Well’ The War of the Worlds.

War of the Worlds

Yes, that’s right, it was only a year ago that I got to this cornerstone of the science-fiction genre! Quite shameful really, considering Jules Verne has been with me for so many years now. But anyhow. Despite my penchant for Verne – when I was 10, or 11, Journey to the Centre of the Earth became the first book that I was truly lost in, and just could not put down – I’ve never really considered myself to be a big fan of sci-fi, per se. Yes, I know I’m obsessed with Star Wars, but that’s different. I mean, real hardcore sci-fi stuff I usually have to be in the mood for. Largely because it involves so much physics that I can’t keep up. But anyway. Early sci-fi, like Verne and, as I know realise, Wells, is much more my cup of tea. I mean, it’s all so civilised, somehow!

War of the Worlds appears to be more famous nowadays for its famous radio broadcast in 1938, where, due to the manner in which it was narrated, listeners believed it to be a genuine news broadcast. The book has, nevertheless, been a massive hit, and certainly to my peripheral understanding, is a seminal work of the genre.

When I read the book last year, I was immediately captivated by Wells’ style. I’m not going to launch into some literary critique, because I’m hardly qualified to do that, but I can tell you that the writing is plain and immediate, which I think suits this type of story immensely. A first-person account of the Martian invasion of Earth should, after all, have some immediacy! The Martians are what I suppose you’d call ‘classic’ aliens, with advanced technology that allows them to first of all make the journey in this pre-space age, but also to adapt to the atmospheric differences between the two planets, as seen in the rapid construction of the tripods. The Martian weapon of choice is the heat-ray, which I think I’ve read somewhere is the first appearance of a ray-like-gun in a science-fiction novel.

There is a sense of urgency as we follow the narrator around the countryside, dodging Martian patrols as he tries to make his way towards London, which really drives the story along. The character of the Curate has got to be one of the most annoying I’ve ever come across, but even that can’t detract from the general greatness! There is a sequence where the two are hiding in a deserted house when they find themselves trapped there due to the arrival of more Martians, and I was absolutely glued to the page at that point!

I had no idea how the story would end, as I’ve never investigated any of the films that have been made about it, so was propelled through to the conclusion to find out. I have to say, it felt a bit cheap at first – the Martians, it turns out, have no immunity to Earthly bacteria, so die of a microbial infection. However, when you take the book as a whole, it all just makes so much sense that yes, the ending is actually very plausible. In all, it’s a really well-written story, that balances excitement with sensible, well-thought-out mechanics. Marvellous!

It’s definitely worth checking out, and at less than 180 pages, it won’t take up too much time. But you may then find yourself, like me, wanting to check out other stuff from the pen of HG Wells..!