Book Review – Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov

FoundationAndEmpire_CoverI am a little behind on my book reviews, but in relevance to this post, I have also had another epiphany: My blog posts can be rather too long! This means that they aren’t quite as consumable as I would like, and they take quite a long time to create to boot. I want more time to read, more time to write and more time to interact with Twitter and bloggers. Here, therefore is a short review of Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov.

This is the second Asimov book that I have read. Unsurprisingly the first was Foundation. I read it quite a while ago… On starting Foundation and Empire I was reminded of the wonderful quality of Isaac’s writing. There is a conversational tone to it, but it is not a conversational prose per-Se. Isaac manages to hit that illusive target of “just enough”. The reader is expected to understand the world in which the story is set. This lean, intelligent approach draws you in.

If that doesn’t float your intergalactic battleship, then the main story really should. I would suggest that this is a series of books that really does need to be read in sequence. The story is epic. A hugely expanded human population and a story line that interacts with it, all on a galactic scale. It quite literally tells the future story of a whole civilisation through the deeds of a few key people. Events move beautifully from the macro to the micro without skipping a beat. At the grander end of this scale, battle scenes and more importantly tactics feature quite a bit. In places I was reminded of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, another fantastic book.

You can tell that this story is the Foundation (‘scuse the pun) of many other Sci-Fi books. All aspects of writing and story telling are bought together so well that it couldn’t help but influence a lot of stories that have arrived since. It astounds me that I can read a book about the future that was first published in 1952, yet there isn’t anything out of place, it’s still contemporary. The golden rule is; if you’re writing about the future, write about the far future. Hover boards in 2015 is just never going to happen… The only place that Foundation and Empire appeared dated was it’s references to smoking. You never know though, if we ever do actually crack the hover board, we may actually manage to create a way to smoke that doesn’t kill you??

Foundation and Empire delivers, exquisite Sci-Fi. I’ve got no more to say except, possibly, the Mule is one of my new favourite characters of all time! Appetite whetted? Go read it then 🙂

Rating: 9/10

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Book Review – The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley

TheNaturalNavigatorI was given The Natural Navigator a year ago for my birthday and although it always looked like a good book, I had not opened it even once. That is my confession and the reason I am here writing my brainwaves down here!

I have a couple of other books that I would file in the same category as The Natural Navigator:- Never Eat Shredded Wheat by Christopher Somerville (Number 139) and The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney (Number 174) to name the two that come to mind. Incidentally, The Natural Navigator mentions Gavin’s Cloudspotter’s Guide so it will be fun to read that when the time comes. As I think more, I have also read Longitude by David Sobel which again is mentioned in TNN, and I have 1421 by Gavin Menzies (Number 57) which is not mentioned but is sort of related(ish); I have actually read over half of 1421, but as I didn’t finish, it is still on my list! I guess that’s 4 books which come to mind, but hey, who’s counting? Except of course me who introduced the counting thing to start with… [rolls eyes, awkward silence]

Of the (maybe) 4 books I own that talk about natural navigation in some way or other, The Natural Navigator is the one that I saw in a book shop around the time of my friend’s birthday after embarking on this blog. I had started to do a bit of list creation and noticed my copy hanging around; an idea struck me. I bought the book for my friend and gave it to him with a caveat. The gift came with a task; read the book, then do a practical! I have a set of books that are on a separate list called “read then do.” My commitment to books of this kind is captured in Rule Number 9. The Natural Navigator is one of these books that has snuck onto my main reading list. “What’s the Task?” I hear you ask. Well, my friend and I need to get lost, then navigation our way out of trouble. I will write a follow up post when we get the event planned, but to be honest if there is anything that is going to let me down it is my shockingly poor memory and it’s lacklustre ability to retain all of the cool stuff that Tristan Gooley’s book has given me.

The book itself is a wonderful way to gain a deeper understanding of the natural world. In the deep and varied way that Tristan introduces the concepts involved in natural navigation it is obvious that a very strong atunement with nature and it’s cycles is a core principal of the book. This fundamental appreciation of nature struck a chord with me. The need to have a holistic awareness of everything that can be used including not just the local nature, but the planet, the solar system and the rest of the visible galaxy was wonderful. With all that at our disposal you really do wonder why we bothered with anything more?

Tristan’s enthusiasm to find direction and location using the more obvious signs and confirm it via the use of the less obvious, more arcane knowledge is what brings the book to life and what will ultimately keep the skill of natural navigation alive. It also happens to be a very important lesson. Tristan states repeatedly that the navigator who complacently relies on one or two observations risks failure. But there is always more depth and more understanding to gain. Tristan shows that with so many double checks in place you can actually start to deduce new measures. At the end of the book, such is Tristan’s confidence of orientation that he adds a bird-poo compass to his arsenal. N.B. the bird-poo compass does not need to be carried in a pocket and to be honest, that is at least part of the point.

To further elaborate on the Raison d’ĂŞtre of the book, I loved the differentiation made between finding your way and knowing your way. A depth of understanding and a commitment to build the understanding of nature into your every day processes to such an extend that you know where you are and where you’re going at all times. The techniques described in the book will allow you to orientate yourself and find your way from natural cues, but, Tristan is so obviously trying to educating us in so much more. I know that I will forget a lot of what I have learnt, but I will retain enough and I have enough of a care for nature and how it works to re-visit this book in the future, if for no other reason than I am going to try to use it’s teachings in the mini-adventure I mentioned above.

The book is written in a nice succinct prose with enough descriptive content to make it enjoyable to read and there is a healthy undertone of comedic content. The clarity is almost a requirement as some of the concepts are quite hard to comprehend. When you have to take so many factors into consideration it can play havoc with those little grey cells. I continually imagined the navigators of history using these natural techniques, relying upon them when the users didn’t understand the solar system as we now do! I kept thinking of someone stood on the deck of a ship a long time ago trying to divine the correct course, and by some magic of logic and perseverance, succeeding!

It is scary to think that some fundamentals of our existence are no longer understood. We see so far because we are stood on the shoulders of giants… If we were to step (as we now do) off the giants shoulder onto higher ground and the giant walks off, then what? The Natural Navigator is a book that can act as the ladder in my simile, reconnecting us with the not just the ground, but with the natural navigation that is wondrously built into our planet and it’s surroundings.

Rating 8/10

Book review – The Damned by Tarn Richardson

TheDamnedCoverI’m going to start this review with some up-front honesty; I know Tarn Richardson, I know some of the proof readers and, lastly, I know that Tarn will read this review. BUT to induce “squeaky bum time” for him, this is my completely 100% honest review of The Damned

I suppose I should start the review of The Damned with a mention of it’s prequel The Hunted. I read this back in February and my review can be found here. The prequel managed to do some very good things in a short story, but mainly it introduced Poldek Tacit in all his rock hard glory. If I had one resounding wish when I started to read The Damned, it was that Tacit would remain a strong and viable character. I was not disappointed. Poldek is most definitely built on extremes, but although violence and alcoholism are the two that dominate; a strong religious conviction, love and tenderness also filter in competently throughout the book. This leaves Tacit as quite a well rounded character (considering the genre we are dealing with!) I wouldn’t go as far as to say well adjusted, but where would the fun be in that? Tacit, although the main character throughout the book, is not the only strong personality. There is quite a wide range of characters and this variety successfully provides a required undertone of realism to the otherwise extreme events of the horror/Gothic/war/religious turmoil/death and love story lines! (I’ve probably still missed a few there?)

The catholic church features heavily throughout the book. It is nigh on impossible to write any book with the catholic church in it these days without there being shadows of Dan Brown lingering around. It’s also hard to write a fast paced story set partly in the Vatican without getting a little closer. Parts of the story did remind me of Brown a bit, especially the occasional mention of a servant called Silas! [1] The catholic storyline was however a strong part of the book, being the basis of the creation of werewolf and in being one of the few links between the wolf and war arcs.

The Damned is a horror romp made to be extreme, it is completely it’s own story and Poldek Tacit fits this world perfectly. The idiosyncrasies of the style suit the character and therefore the book well. I would be lying if I said that The Damned is not first and foremost a horror story about werewolves and the catholic church. There are numerous scenes that are nothing but well realised, full tilt gore. However, if I concluded my description there I would also be doing the book a great dis-service. Tarn originally wrote a much straighter World War One novel. You can see the detail of the locations and scenes bleed through (for once in the figurative sense and not the claret!) In fact, all of the story arcs come together well and the balance of the whole story grew on me the more I progressed through the book, continuing after I had finished as I thought about it. There is a lot of story packed into the book. The pace is tuned well, but I know I missed some subtleties of the setting and the war as I raced past. I did notice some distinct war details that I did not know about e.g. marching band at the front of the German line. In a trench based scene the description of a sound I didn’t expect added depth.

I found it interesting to see the backdrop of World War One used because there is a wonderful synergy between the two story arcs of War and Wolves. In one there is a question about good and evil; which is which in a world where the Catholic Church has gone to such great lengths to eradicate heresy and the werewolves who are a product of that work. In the other arc evil rises in the world; man against man in what we all know was the largest, darkest war in the history of the planet. Good and evil, men in trenches acting on orders, a very real history with a parallel story superimposed over it. These two stories wind into each other almost just by proximity; a few key characters link the two theatres of carnage and that is all. Now, I was going to say that I didn’t identify with the WW1 story line as much as the others. I have never been overly interested in war, just one of those things I suppose. That said, I just did quite a good job of describing the emotion of the situation above! Go figure?

The various threads of the story are laid out in just over 100 chapters and this gives the book a very particular, frenetic quality. I have read other books that are laid out in a similar way, but I did find the story line in The Damned whipped about quite a bit at the start. Ultimately I got used to it, and the device worked to greater and greater effect as the various story lines came together. This knitting together of the book really did work well as I progressed through it.

I noted down quite early on that Tarn had managed to create some insightful and strong descriptions. I love this type of writing; where a scene, a concept or an emotion is evoked. The relevance of the rest of the book can drop away from these passages, they define good writing whether in fiction, non-fiction, horror, fantasy or the newspaper. A writer’s task is to evoke reactions; to paint the story in all its sensory glory. Tarn manages this on numerous occasions. Unfortunately balanced against this quality, there were a few typos dotted throughout the book. They did detract slightly, but not enough to make me give them more than a passing mention.

In conclusion, it is pretty obvious that I really liked The Damned. The whole thing built towards a well integrated conclusion. I lament not being able to follow the characters further down their various paths, but hey, that’s what books 2 and 3 are all about 🙂

Rating 8.5/10

[1] Hello, this is my first ever foot note. I edited this bit out but still really want to mention it. There is absolutely no relevance to the book review, so I couldn’t leave it where it was! I was talking about a Catholic servant called Silas… The character is hardly ever mentioned in the book and as far as I could tell looked nothing like Paul Bettany. More to the point, he doesn’t get his bum out at all! (for those who aren’t aware, this reference is made as Paul B played Silas in the Dan Brown Film and usually does get his bum out whenever he has the opportunity. Significantly he didn’t manage it in Avengers: Age of Ultron which was probably a good thing…)

The Book List is finally 100% complete!

My list of books has been in existence for a very very long time. It is the reason why I started the blog and the reason I have been consciously reading since last August, almost 10 months ago. The problem until today was that I didn’t know the full extent of my challenge. The list wasn’t written down, it was literally only evident in the physical presence of the books I own it was defined logically, but was in no way visible. I knew that it was going to take a very long time to complete, I knew that it would drag me through every possible emotion (including boredom!) and I knew that it would make me write this blog and therefore instil a discipline so that I can get more and more into writing as I go. Other than that I didn’t know anything.

The essence of both my reading and writing ambitions is to do more of both, to commit to them and see what happens. From the day I started the blog I knew I needed to get organised at some point. I wanted to start quickly and strike while I my idea was fresh in my head, but over the first few months I got more involved with reading and reviewing than I did with organising and other blogging about, for instance, I don’t know, maybe post consumerism?

The actual kick up the arse for getting this book list finally sorted was Andy Miller. He actually thought about his list before he started. As it happens, Andy managed to take multiple years to get going with the actual reading part. But in reading his book I realised that I didn’t have a clue what the scope of my challenge was. There wasn’t anything wrong with not having a list, but to be able to see what is coming, to have created some kind of sequence and to know where any of the rare new books should be added is going to be a revelation for me.

So, without further ado, I have the great pleasure of being able to direct you to my book list. Please step right this way Madame et Mesures to the massive link below:

My Book Activity page that contains my Massive Book List

It’s just a spreadsheet at the moment, but it will evolve over time. It has additional tabs for books I own that don’t belong on the list, but the star attraction is the 210 books I own that I haven’t read! I have managed to knock off 25 since I started this “interesting” journey, but I have a loooooong way to go.

Every now and then I am planning to throw in something from the “Read Then Do” list. These are practical books that I should be able to not just read, but prove that I have read with an interesting practical test. Although it is actually on the Reading List, my current book The Natural Navigator is going to have a practical element which, lets face it will probably result in me and mate getting horrendously lost, or, maybe not? Only time will tell.

So, wish me luck with my list and check in to see how I’m doing every now and then. It would be great to see you 🙂

 

Just a plain old diary entry

Evening all. I feel like I haven’t posted for ages which probably means that it’s been even longer than that!

To give you a quick update, I’m almost finished The Damned by Tarn Richardson. I had a heavy week at work last week, but I’m off until Wednesday this week, so I hope I can finish the book and get the reivew done? At the very least I should have the first draft bashed out. Once that is finished I need to get back to The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley. I have paused that half way through as The Damned got started prematurely… I must admit that it is good to have some time to conjugate the concepts in The Natural Navigator though. I am being much more aware of what I am doing, or more specifically where I am doing it and what way I’m facing while I do it… Whatever ‘it’ may happen to be.

Over and out, back to the reading

Poco