Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Book review: The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

The War of the WorldsThe War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interplanetary war breaks out in Woking, Surrey England. Newsreaders even less sure where that is than countries in the Middle East.

The War of the Worlds is about Martians invading Earth using advanced technology, like 21 metre tall tripod machines, heat rays, and toxic smogs. One man is able to recount his experience of living through the invasion from the first landing to the start of the rebuilding of southern England.

It is hard to comment on such a classic novel. The War of the Worlds has gone on to influence culture in many ways. The obvious influences are in books and movies, most notably the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels and the entire alien invasion genre. But it also had an impact on science, such as Freeman Dyson’s search for extraterrestrial life and Robert Goddard’s rocket development. Not many books can claim that (seriously, read the Wiki article for a brief overview). Makes it very hard to comment…

While I enjoyed this book I came away from it underwhelmed. Much of the novel is interesting, not least of which is the understated setting – because now you would be considered mad to set an alien invasion story anywhere without a prominent monument that can be destroyed. The characters the narrator meets are also interesting, particularly the artilleryman who has big dreams about leading the resistance movement. But this is all told in a memoir style that lacks immediacy, tension, and excitement. Southern England has just been invaded by aliens with death rays, yet the narrator could just as well be relating the time he watched a cricket match in Surrey.

Worth reading as a classic, especially if you forgive the narrative style.

NB: It also influenced music, such as this one by Devin Townsend.

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Book Review: The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly

The Four Legendary Kingdoms: A Jack West Jr Novel 4The Four Legendary Kingdoms: A Jack West Jr Novel 4 by Matthew Reilly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have twelve labours to perform do you get an energy drink sponsorship deal?

Jack West Jr was retired. The Fifth Greatest Warrior had saved the world and become a family man. But his old nemesis Iolanthe recruits him against his will to compete in The Games. This battle to the death takes representatives from the Four Legendary Kingdoms to compete to become the champion: a modern-day Hercules. Oh, and that champion allows an ancient machine to stop a rogue galaxy from destroying the Milky Way. The galaxy, not the chocolate bar.

With few exceptions – The Tournament, Seven Deadly Wonders – I’ve loved Matthew Reilly’s novels. They made by taking pure adrenaline, injected with amphetamines, and poured into a stack of paper. The stakes are always high and time is always short. This time Jack West Jr has to save the galaxy by winning a tournament. No doubt Reilly’s next novel will involve saving the universe…

I was a little wary of The Four Legendary Kingdoms. While The Great Zoo of China was a return to form, The Tournament was somewhat of a letdown for me. There was also the fact that Seven Deadly Wonders, the first Jack West Jr novel, is my least favourite book from Reilly. But any fears I had were well and truly stabbed in the neck. I can’t wait for the next instalment in this series.

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Book to Movie: Lord of the Rings Two Towers – What’s the Difference?

Last month Cinefix covered The Fellowship of the Ring. This month they cover The Two Towers with What’s the Difference?

For me the middle third of the Lord of the Rings was both the most enjoyable and most annoying. As mentioned in the video, there are three tales running separately and rather than moving between these tales as they unfold in the narrative, we jump back to start again for each perspective. The book has some of the most memorable moments in this section – I may or may not have named one of my computers Entwash – but the order of events feels confused. Sorry, not confused, more drawn out, which for a novel that includes a hell of a lot of walking is something unneeded.

As with The Fellowship of the Ring, I think the movie is a fantastic adaptation. Seeing the battles brought to life was certainly a highlight. Nothing quite like watching Ents smash up Isengard rather than just reading about it.

Next month we’ll see the last instalment from Cinefix. Well, until the 6 video coverage of the 3 movie adaptation of the 1 book story The Hobbit.

Multitasking definition

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I’ve mentioned before how multitasking is one of those things everyone does badly (here and here). Time to focus… cat picture!

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Book review: The Devil’s Country by Harry Hunsicker

The Devil's CountryThe Devil’s Country by Harry Hunsicker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Has there ever been a religious cult started for something other than allowing the leaders to have sex with the congregation?

Arlo Baines is wandering the state of Texas in an effort to forget the murder of his family. The former Texas Ranger sees a couple of guys up to no good, and starts making trouble in the neighbourhood. He gets in one little fight and has the local sheriff and a religious cult wanting to see him leave (for Bel Air).

It was refreshing to dive into a different take on the itinerant vigilante genre. Obviously there are similarities between any of the novels in this genre, the most prominent being Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series (of which I’m a fan). But Harry Hunsicker has brought a more haunted and reluctant hero to the page, one who feels a little more vulnerable, but no less unstoppable.

This is a fast-moving novel which hits all the right beats. While it doesn’t stray from the itinerant vigilante genre path, nor offer up any surprising twists, The Devil’s Country was an enjoyable read. Recommended for any fans of Lee Child, Matt Hilton, Zoe Sharp, et al.

NB: I received an advance review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

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Abridged Classics

If you haven’t seen them already, these cartoons from John Atkinson at Wrong Hands are awesome. Go see his blog.

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Readicide

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I have long-held a disdain for the way reading and books are presented in schools. At a time when kids are trying to be cool by gaming, watching the right TV shows, seeing cool movies, Snap-chatting themselves half-naked, and sleeping until noon, schools try to suck all the fun out of reading.

Up until high school kids are more likely to read regularly for pleasure. At high school this rate declines markedly, and doesn’t really recover until retirement (if at all, as I’d argue that the older people making up those Pew survey numbers grew up in an age before internet, decent TV, and gaming). Not only are teens exposed to more other potential entertainment sources, they also find less enjoyment in reading. Something happens in high school. Something terrible. We assign them standardised texts to read!

In his book, ReadicideKelly Gallagher explains why the American system has been failing kids and how to fix it. I think many of the points apply to any nation that utilises an emphasis on standardised testing for schools. Below is a summary presentation that you can navigate to by clicking on the image. Worth a look for any fellow book nerds and/or parents.

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I don’t actually agree with everything in the overview, namely the idea that classics are classics for a reason. You have to remember that the reason a book becomes a classic is often chance, or because some person reckons it should be, not because it is always good. Plenty of good books have undoubtably been lost in obscurity and thus to history. An example of a book now regarded as a classic that was almost lost to history is Moby Dick. It faded into obscurity after its release and was pretty much forgotten until one literary critic – Carl Van Doren – revived the novel 70 years after its publication. So one guy reckoned it was good, others nodded and agreed with him, and so that means it’s a classic.*

The idea that kids should be reading classics or literary “masterpieces” is part of the problem, in my opinion. This is very much a top down decree of what is important by people who have made a career out of lecturing others on what is important…. to them. Just because they like it doesn’t mean that it will inspire kids to be lifelong readers.

Now, that isn’t to say that those “important” books aren’t worth reading. But it is to say that there is a stark difference between what a literary critic or scholar deems good, and what a kid who just read Harry Potter for the first time deems good. School curriculums would be better off without trying to bash kids over the heads with books they are unlikely to enjoy.

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*Yes, I’m being overly simplistic.

Those end of book feels

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Book review: The Time Machine by HG Wells

The Time MachineThe Time Machine by H.G. Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wonder if vegans object to the Morlocks’ diet?

In what is now a classic of the Science Fiction genre, an un-named narrator has local dignitaries over to his place once a week to tell tall tales and show off his latest inventions to. On one of these evenings he limps in the worse for wear, in desperate need of a steak, and discusses his pocket flower collection.

When I was a kid I read a lot of the classic science fiction stories from the likes of HG Wells and Jules Verne. It has been so long since I’ve read them that I thought it was time to revisit these classics. While I can still fondly remember the 1960 movie – let us not ever speak of the 2002 adaptation – the book felt unfamiliar and akin to virgin reading material.

Whilst The Time Machine does deserve its place in history for influencing/creating Science Fiction as we know it (fantastical ideas explored, social issues analogised), as a novel it is lacking. One example of this is the lack of tension in scenes that are literally life or death struggles. Instead of fearing for the narrator’s life and wondering how he’ll survive, we are treated to a recounting of the events that could have instead been describing someone having a cup of tea while watching the rain out of the dining room window. A wondrous adventure told as though it was just another day at the office.

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Book review: The Scam by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Scam (Fox and O'Hare, #4)The Scam by Janet Evanovich

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When someone launders your money do they also iron and starch it? Why yes, I am a dad, why do you ask?

Nick Fox and Kate O’Hare are once again using Nick’s talents as a conman to take down criminals on the FBI’s list of bad guys. This time they are after a casino owner who is helping launder money for anyone from mobsters to terrorists. Given the company he keeps, is it any surprise he has a tank of piranha in his office for ‘negotiations’.

After being disappointed in the second instalment in this series, The Chase, I was unsure if I would read any more of the Evanovich and Goldberg series. I already had The Scam on loan from the library, so I decided to chance it. This was a rewarding decision as The Scam delivers an entertaining read.

I was disappointed with The Chase because it felt like an episode from one of those will-they-won’t-they crime shows – such as Castle or Bones – during their declining years. You know, just as they are lining up the ramp over the shark cage. But The Scam felt like an early episode at the beginning of the series when Castle or Bones are still awesome, even though there are plot elements here that set this firmly later in the series (can’t say more without major spoilers).

So skip The Chase and read The Scam.

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Book to Movie: Lord of the Rings – What’s the Difference?

This month’s What’s the Difference? from CineFix covers the Fellowship of the Ring section of Lord of the Rings.

Let’s be honest here, the movies were better.

Whilst I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings in both movie and book form, to call the books waffly and slow-moving is an understatement. As pointed out in the CineFix video, huge passages of time elapse before anything actually happens in the book. The adventure Frodo sets out upon literally takes decades to start, such that you forget what the inciting call to adventure is.

The movie also establishes the stakes and opposing forces better. This not only sets the clock ticking but raises tension and consequence. Meanwhile the book has plenty of pipe smoking and walking. In fairness, Tom Bombadil is a highlight that is sorely missing from the movie – although I doubt that the lyricism of his presence would translate to the screen from the page.

In all, this is one of the few examples where the movie was superior. And shorter. Much shorter.

My library colour coded

Book review: The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Chase (Fox and O'Hare, #2)The Chase by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is no con you can pull on a politician, given that they invented them all.

Nick Fox and Kate O’Hare are once again teamed up as the will-they-won’t-they odd couple. This time their mission is to recover a stolen artefact of national significance to the Chinese government. They have to steal it from the people who stole it before someone realises it was stol….. You get the idea.

I’ve read many Lee Goldberg and Janet Evanovich novels and have always found them humorous and entertaining. But The Chase felt like a by-the-numbers follow up to The Heist, a book that established a potentially good series. This was like an episode from a TV crime show like Castle, or Bones, or any of the dozens of those similarly constructed dramedies. And not an episode from the start of the series when it was good, but in those later episodes when they are lining up the ramp over the shark tank.

That isn’t to say that The Chase fails to entertain, quite the contrary. This is a fun novel and series, but could feel a bit too formulaic.

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Book review: Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs

Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson, #9)Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who knew trolls were brightly coloured down there. Something to keep in mind during your next internet argument.

Adam and Mercy’s pack is quickly becoming the go-to problem solving group. Vampire dispute: call the pack. Wayward fae: call the pack. Troll rampaging on a bridge in town and threatening to kill everyone: call the pack. Since that isn’t happening anywhere else, Mercy claims the Tri-cities as their territory and any and all are under their protection. Only took a few seconds for someone to take up the protection offer and give them another headache in the form of a fire-touched human hunted by the fae.

This instalment in the Mercy Thompson series sees some of the older conflicts resolved, only to be replaced by new conflicts as the importance of the Columbia Basin pack in the wider world grows. The way Patricia Briggs has gradually grown the Mercy’s world, and the characters who live within it, has felt natural, whilst upping the stakes. Of course now that I’m up-to-date with the series, I have a fortnight to wait for the next instalment to be published.

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Just Add Coffee

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Book Review: Night Broken by Patricia Briggs

Night Broken (Mercy Thompson, #8)Night Broken by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are dyed blue are you at risk of being abducted by Smurfs?

Mercy and Adam have an unwelcome house guest, Christy, Adam’s ex-wife. She is fleeing a stalker who has killed at least one person and burned down a condo. Oh, and he might be a volcano god. Even more reason for Christy to try to manipulate her way back into Adam and the pack’s life.

This instalment of the Mercy Thompson series is filled with tension. The injection of Christy back into the werewolf pack politics, the new enemy, the need to protect people who are trying to hurt you, and the suspicion of the werewolves being responsible for a rash of murders, could induce reader anxiety. Patricia Briggs has certainly left no obstacle out of Mercy’s way in Night Broken.

Needless to say, the review of the next instalment, Fire Touched, will be coming soon.

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Manuscript Love

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Book vs Movie: Shawshank Redemption – What’s the Difference?

Nothing quite like comparing one of the best movies of all time with its source material. This month CineFix do with What’s the Difference? on The Shawshank Redemption.

It’s odd that I have read Stephen King’s The Body but haven’t read Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, given that they shared space in the same collection. But then I don’t often read novellas and short stories, as I prefer novels. I often think that shorter stories make for easier movie adaptations as the filmmakers don’t have to trim material the same way. Of course there are two problems with that thinking:

  1. It assumes that filmmakers actually read the source material (see here, here, herehere….)
  2. It assumes that filmmakers aren’t quite content to stretch source material out to fill as much cinema time as possible, no matter how bad an idea that is. *cough* The Hobbit *cough*

I recently saw a listicle that suggested Shawshank was one of the movies you should have in your collection. That is clearly wrong. If you can’t turn on the TV and catch it on rerun then your TV is broken or you have found Die Hard on instead. Why own it? Which brings me to possibly the only real gripe there is to be had with Shawshank, and that is its over-popularity. Exactly how many times can it play on TV before people start becoming annoyed? At what point does the audience start to groan at what was once a great movie? Can great art remain timeless if you beat everyone over the head with it? I fear the answers.

Finding something to read

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Book review: Rick and Morty Volume 4 by Kyle Starks

Rick and Morty, Volume 4Rick and Morty, Volume 4 by Kyle Starks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“If I’m being too vague, I’m talking about your penis here.”

Are you missing Rick and Morty? Can you believe it has been 1 year, 4 months, and 9 days since the cliffhanger of Season 2? Can you believe we still have a month to wait for Season 3?

Well this collection of short adventures will tide you over. So many of these stories feel like lost episodes that we missed out on. It’s a Ricklicious fix. Rick and Morty fans will enjoy this collection no end.

I received a digital copy of this collection ahead of release in exchange for an honest review, focussed on science.

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