Publisher: Tor

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

Posted December 14, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Horror / 0 Comments

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington IrvingTitle: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Goodreads)
Author: Washington Irving
Published: Tor, 1820
Pages: 96
Genres: Classic, Horror
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Most people know the story of Sleepy Hollow, we have probably seen a movie or the TV show. But how accurate are these adaptations to the book? The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is probably Washington Irving’s best known short story. Appearing in his collection The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent along with the story that is often a companion to Sleepy Hollow, Rip Van Winkle. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow tells the story of Ichabod Crane in the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town and his encounters with the Headless Horseman.

There are many pop culture references to the Headless Horseman as well as adaptations. I remember Tim Burton directing a movie adaptation starting Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci and of course the more recent TV show. Although I cannot think of one reference or adaptation that seemed to get the story right. For starters, the TV show likes to portray Ichabod Crane as a gentleman (although a turncoat) but I got a very different experience in Washington Irving’s short story. I found Ichabod Crane to be a greedy character that wanted everything; from riches to notoriety.

The story is told as an investigation into the supernatural, trying to unlock the legend of the Headless Horseman. This worked really well, Washington Irving had a great ability in creating an atmosphere. As a reader I felt like I could picture everything he was writing and it really helped set the tension. Irving wrote beautiful words and combining this with the atmosphere, I felt myself fully immersed in the settlement of Tarry Town.

Having said that, the plot did not really go anywhere and it felt like it was over before it really got started. I think this story could have done with more pages, allowing to build the plot and characters in greater detail. There are some interesting themes of wealth, nature and truth but for the most part I felt it was lacking. I like the way Washington Irving wrote and I am glad that I finally know the story of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow now, even if it was just an average tale.

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

Posted December 3, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Science Fiction / 0 Comments

The Three-Body Problem by Liu CixinTitle: The Three-Body Problem (Goodreads)
Author: Liu Cixin
Translator: Ken Liu
Series: Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1
Published: Tor, 2014
Pages: 400
Genres: Science Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In the People’s Republic of China 1967, it was a time where the Cultural Revolution was purging the country of all capitalist ideals. A group of scientists, part of a secret military project, send signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien race on the brink of destruction known as the Trisolarans capture the signal and now plan to invade earth. A deeply philosophical game The Three-Body Problem occupies the mind of many scientist which features a world with three suns, causing chaos and unpredictability; trying to understand the order is what motives these people. The Three-Body Problem is a first contact novel often referred to as a cross between Dune and Independence Day.

The Cultural Revolution makes for an interesting backdrop for this novel and I feel an understanding is essential to the story. The Cultural Revolution was a social-political movement that was set in motion by Chairman Mao to transform The People’s Republic of China into the true Communist ideal. This was a cultural purging to remove all remnants of capitalism and to some extent even getting rid of some of China’s traditional elements. The movement ran from 1966 to 1976, although Chairman Mao did declare it over in 1969, but the Red Guard were still very active in their mission all the way till the death of their military leader Lin Biao.

This was also during the height of the space race, Sputnik was the first artificial satellite to be launched into space in 1957, giving the Soviet Union an early lead. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) is believed to have begun in the late 1950s, although their research into rockets were more focused on a ballistic missile program to help defend the country against the Americans and Soviets during the cold war. However China was still interested in space exploration and their first spacecraft to hold human occupancy, Shuguang-1, was designed in 1968.

Now, a three-body problem in physics, is a scientific process where you take initial data sets (position, masses, velocities, etc.) and determine the motion of the three bodies with the help of the laws of classical mechanics, such as Newton’s laws of motion. Historically the three specific bodies being studied were the Moon, the Earth and the Sun. This ties the title of the novel back to the space race and also predicting the world found in the game The Three-Body Problem. However this is only the beginning of trying to understand the workings of this novel and I have not even touched on the philosophical or social criticism aspects of The Three-Body Problem.

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin1 won the Hugo award recently for ‘Best Novel’ and I found it to be an intriguing plot idea. I knew I had to read this, and I went in expecting something similar to Russian science fiction, where there was a lot of social commentary of what was happening within Communist China. This novel did not disappoint, I would compare this to the Russian first contact novel Roadside Picnic in the way it explored social and scientific ideals but then the philosophical elements remind me of the old sci-fi novels from the 1960s.

Special mention needs to be made to Ken Liu who did an excellent job of translating this book into English. I found myself looking forward to reading all his translation notes which explains historical and cultural references that Westerners like myself may not have known about. I also appreciate that he did not try to convert the narrative to a more accessible format but allowed outsiders a taste in the narrative structure found in Chinese books. I was really impressed with the first book in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy and I would like to think I would read the rest of the series, but I know what I am like when it comes to finishing a series.

The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell

Posted March 27, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Fantasy / 0 Comments

The Severed Streets by Paul CornellTitle: The Severed Streets (Goodreads)
Author: Paul Cornell
Series: Shadow Police #2
Published: Tor, 2014
Pages: 400
Genres: Fantasy
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Detective Inspector James Quill is a member of the Shadow Police, a squad dedicated to solving supernatural crimes. When an invisible murderer kills a high profile cabinet minister in an unusual way, the Shadow Police are called to solve it. Things take a turn when the lead detective from the squad goes missing. Things start to fall apart; can Quill solve this mystery and bring the team back together?

I was really enjoying the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch lately and I thought I would look for more urban fantasy novels that centred around a detective, when I remembered London Falling. I loved this book which was the first in the Shadow Police series; it was dark gritty and blended police procedural with urban fantasy really well. I read it a while ago and thought it was time to try book two, The Severed Streets. Unfortunately this book did not hold up and suffered the same fate as Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams (book two in the Bobby Dollar series).

While London Falling went for a dark and gritty, noir feel to it, The Severed Streets seemed to go in a different direction. It felt too gimmicky and I felt like Paul Cornell was offered a book deal based on this series but had already run out of ideas. First of all, the book is set in London, so it obviously had to reference the 1800s Whitechapel murders. Jack the Ripper has been done to death, especially in urban fantasy; I was immediately reminded of The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. Also this book has Neil Gaiman as a character and I never enjoy it when they use living people as characters. It is a little hit and miss when a book includes a famous person who is deceased but when it comes to living people, it is normally always a miss.

I feel so angry about this book but mainly because I went in thinking it would be like London Falling. I would have been better off not reading this book and just letting the first novel remain a standalone. Take out Jack the Ripper and Neil Gaiman or replace these characters, and it might have been a decent book. However, for me, it was just a gimmick that did not work. I will not be continuing with the Shadow Police and I have to start my search for a new dark, gritty urban fantasy series to enjoy.

Among Others by Jo Walton

Posted February 3, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Fantasy / 4 Comments

Among Others by Jo WaltonTitle: Among Others (Goodreads)
Author: Jo Walton
Published: Tor, 2011
Pages: 304
Genres: Fantasy
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

After tragically losing her sister, Mori has to learn to deal with this great loss. She fled to her estranged father who then put her into a well-respected all-girls boarding school. Mori is left alone trying to deal with grief, a new school and her own teenage angst. Among Others is written in a series of diary entries exploring Mori’s coming of age.

While I found it extremely difficult to give a plot overview of this book, it might be easier to just say this is a book about book with a fantasy element to it. The tragic loss of a twin sister would be a difficult subject to write about and Jo Walton has combined some auto-biographical elements within the novel. Mori feels lost and she turns to books to bring her comfort and escapism, she is a fan of science fiction novels and slowly she begins to find the therapeutic value to reading.

Being set in 1979 allows the book to explore the older science fiction novels that I love without going into some of the modern stuff. What I loved about sci-fi novels of the 60s and 70s is there were strong psychological and sociological themes throughout the narratives. I found great joy when books like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, The Man in the High Castle and Slaughterhouse-Five were mentioned. There was something about reading a fantasy novel about reading science fiction that really tickled my fancy.

The fantasy elements were only a very small fragment of the book and I began to question if this really was a fantasy novel. I would call this book magical realism but the mention of fairies, elves, etc. probably does make it a fantasy novel. These fantastical elements played an interesting part in the book, and I began to question that this world actually existed. However for Mori, it existed and it was her way to hold onto her sister and deal with her death. She treated this world almost like a secret that was for her only and it allowed her to deal with her loss. When she held on to this world too tightly she feels whole again but she also can see how damaging it will become.

This was a fascinating look at grief and since it was a book about the joys of books and reading, I was hooked. It was a bit of a slow burn but I enjoyed the slow pacing and journey. About half way through, I felt myself losing a little interest but then Mori joined a book club and I was right back in. Among Others is a quiet and tender book about life, loss and most importantly books which makes it well worth reading.

London Falling by Paul Cornell

Posted October 7, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Fantasy / 0 Comments

London Falling by Paul CornellTitle: London Falling (Goodreads)
Author: Paul Cornell
Series: Shadow Police #1
Published: Tor, 2012
Pages: 400
Genres: Fantasy
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete a major drag bust, the type of bust that will launch his career. Then his prize witness went and got himself killed in custody. This mysterious death leads Quill to be recruited by intelligence analyst Lisa Ross into a special CID unit. The murder of his witness suspect Rob Toshack was not a normal one and soon Quill and the team find themselves investigating London’s sinister magical underground.

I’ve said this before, I have a hard time with fantasy but I overcome that by reading books like London Falling. This is a dark and gritty London police procedural/urban fantasy novel; I read it for the mystery and it’s an easy way into the world of fantasy. I’ve had some decent success with this tactic and now I’m faced with the problem of reading urban fantasy and not fantasy.

Let’s get all excited about the author for a moment. For those who don’t know who Paul Cornell is, he has written for Marvel and DC comic books as well as on the TV shows Robin Hood, Primeval, Casualty, Holby City and Coronation Street. The most important achievement and all that really matters is his involvement on Doctor Who; even writing a number of the novels and creating a spin off companion in Bernice Summerfield.

I will admit that I picked this book up solely based on the Doctor Who involvement but I read it because of the dark mystery. I don’t know what it is about English police procedures but for me I think they are far superior; they are not afraid to go dark and the whole police culture over in London in particular is fascinating. With so many cameras filming people’s every move it is interesting to see that the crime rate is still high. I suppose there are not enough men to watch and police every camera but the whole scene fascinates me.

I’ve read the first book in the Ben Aaronovitch series and while that was good, I found this was better. Aaronovitch adds humour to his novel and Peter Grant is a blundering rookie, whereas James Quill is as hard-boiled as they come and you know how much I enjoy that.  The only major issue I had was because this novel tells the story of the CID unit of four people, it is told in a third person perspective and I like the first person perspective in a novel like this just so I can get into the protagonist’s head. This wasn’t a major problem, more of a personal preference.

The book starts off as a police procedural and near the start I was hoping it would turn into something like The Wire but as the magical elements slowly got introduced the book departed from that whole feel and turned into a real urban fantasy affair. The book has a lot of flaws but I enjoyed the noir-ish style and was willing to forgive any shortcomings.

I believe this is the making of a new urban fantasy series and book two, The Severed Streets comes out in April next year.  If you are interested in London based police procedurals and want to try an urban fantasy novel then this is the one to go for you and obviously if you enjoy The Dresden Files series, I would recommend this one as well. It is rare for me to find a series to be excited about, I thought I had that in the Bobby Dollar series but I was disappointed with the second book, let’s hope this isn’t the case with this series too.

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Posted October 24, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Humour, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

Redshirts by John ScalziTitle: Redshirts (Goodreads)
Author: John Scalzi
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Published: Tor, 2012
Pages: 320
Genres: Humour, Science Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When people talk about a book being “meta”, I have to admit that I often wonder what they are talking about because it really doesn’t say anything about the book itself but it is a good way to sound pretentious. John Scalzi’s Redshirts is so meta; I think the author must have had a lot of fun writing this novel and playing with the red shirt concept. For those people that don’t know what a Red shirt is; it’s a concept made famous by Star Trek in which the character wearing the red shirt on a mission was always the one that died for dramatic effect.

The book Redshirts follows a copy of characters who decided why there was a high mortality rate for the people on missions with high ranking officers. Through their research they found that the only other ship with the same mortality rate was the USS Enterprise. This drives the story in a comedic dig at science fiction television shows.

This book starts off so strong, it has an interesting premises but it turns out all downhill from there. I really think this book would have worked a lot better as a short story and I think Scalzi was just adding filler in to make the book longer. I did enjoy the meta elements of this book and I found it was an entertaining look at the Star Trek storylines but once you hit the halfway point you might as well stop reading. Think of it as Star Trek parody meets Stranger then Fiction jammed together in a very sloppy way.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book and I think that was one of the best parts of my experience of this book. The audio version was read by Wil Weaton adding a whole new element of meta to this book. As a geek, I’m a fan of Wil Weaton and this was the main reason why I read this book. Redshirts could have been an entertaining book, but I don’t think it really came together as well as I was hoping for. Luckily it was a very short book; which could have been shorter. The comedy and meta elements of the novel were worth checking out but the rest of the book didn’t work.

When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger

Posted July 12, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Pulp, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

When Gravity Fails by George Alec EffingerTitle: When Gravity Fails (Goodreads)
Author: George Alec Effinger
Series: Marîd Audran #1
Published: Orb Books, 1987
Pages: 288
Genres: Pulp, Science Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

It’s been awhile since I’ve been so immersed into a science fiction world like this; I think the last time was with China Mieville’s The City and The City. The city of Budayeen something I’ve not experienced before, the blend of Middle Eastern culture and religion really bring this to life in a unique way. Marîd Audrian makes for a great protagonist; he is hard boiled and reminds me a lot of the private detectives in the pulp genres.

When Gravity Fails is a brilliant example of tech noir (so science fiction noir). It has a twisted case for Marîd to investigate, which leads him on a fantastic adventure. It kind of reminds me a little of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher in the sense that it takes the best elements of the pulp genre and mixes it with a hard hitting protagonist in a well built speculative fiction world.

The world is gritty and the story is full of sex, drugs and murder; it offers a lot the think about in regards to the modifications and technology on offer in Budayeen. If you can chance every aspect of your body, mind and personality, would you do it and what are the side effects? I can’t wait to dive further into this world and see what Marîd gets up to in the next book. Recommended for fans of science fiction and pulp novels or even just fans of The Dresden Files; actually I would probably recommend it to anyone that wants to read a captivating book.

For The Win by Cory Doctorow

Posted May 1, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Young Adult / 0 Comments

For The Win by Cory DoctorowTitle: For The Win (Goodreads)
Author: Cory Doctorow
Published: Tor, 2010
Pages: 480
Genres: Young Adult
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: Amazon (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

I’m not sure if I’ve just read a novel or had a lesson in economics. Cory Doctorow’s dystopian novel For the Win tells the story of the exploitation of an online role playing game’s economy. In the running of what could be classed as electronic sweatshops throughout Asia, gold farmers suffer from very poor work conditions in the effort to mine gold and find virtual treasure to sell to first world customers. The novel has a typical ‘unite and rise against authority to improve our lifestyle’ plot but add a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) this book makes for some interesting concepts. While this book is a book about slave labour, gangsters and forming a revolution, this book also dives into the world of global finance in a very educational way.

This book reminds me of Neal Stephenson’s novel Reamde, in the sense that it explores the world of gaming from the perspective of gold farming. While Stephenson focused on all the aspects of creating a MMORPG for the purposes of gold farming and money laundering, For the Win focuses on the concept of the in-game financial system and how fragile global economy can be. The author floods the book with many different financial theories and uses the games economy to help the reader understand just how global finances work. While this novel focuses on the in-game aspects of economics, the theories taught are very real.

Like Reamde, For the Win made me thing of an aspect of gaming that I never released existed. While Reamde hired a geologist to create the world of T’Rain’s mining system; For the Win had an economist working for the game developers. This book was a real eye opener while still making a great story. To begin with I had trouble keeping up with all the characters Doctorow tried to introduce, characters from USA, India and China; but slowly I started to get a feel for which character was which. I don’t think Cory Doctorow spent enough time exploring his characters, I felt like I only got a glimpse of each character and I would have liked more. For the Win is a book for gamers, but non-gamers might also enjoy the thrilling ride this takes the reader on. It is more than just a lesson in economics and it is more than a novel about unionising Gold Farming. While very predictable this ended up being a great read.