Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Under the Skin

Under the Skin
Under the Skin by Michel Faber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found Michel Faber’s book Under the Skin like how I imagine quite a few people did, after watching the movie “Under the Skin” and wanting to know a bit more. The movie is absolutely wonderful, but definitely light on the details–Jonathan Glazer goes more for atmosphere than story, leaving the viewer to fill in the holes themselves.

Though, unlike a poorer movie, the movie doesn’t leave you feeling that there isn’t more story–it leaves you feeling that there definitely is more to the story; you’re just not being let in on it.

So, I decided to buy Michel Faber’s original book that the movie was sourced from… and I am happy I did. It is probably one of the most well-written and original SF stories I have read in quite a while.

The “SF” part of that categorization isn’t as important as the “story” part–this is definitely soft SF, and that’s good, because where the book shines is in the main character’s interaction with the hitchhikers she picks up, and with her fellow human beings.

To briefly sum up the barest bones of the plot (which is the same as the movie): the main character, by all appearances a human female, drives around Scotland picking up hitchhikers, all men, who she then questions, eventually taking them to an unknown fate.

That’s the first thing you’ll notice that’s interesting about the book–Isserly, the main character (who in the movie version played by Scarlett Johansson did not even have a name), is most definitely not what we’d call a “human,” but her and her comrades call themselves humans, and us something else. Make sense?

Without spoiling any of the plot, the book goes into far more about what Isserly and her comrades are doing–though it does this very slowly, revealing it to the reader in one of the most absolutely horrifying reveals I’ve ever experienced in a book. It’s not a “twist”–it’s a slow revelation that you come to over about the first half of the book.

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Review: Gran Turismo 5

(Editor’s Note: I originally started this draft about a year after Gran Turismo 5 came out.  Most of it still applies; some of the gripes were corrected in Gran Turismo’s most excellent next release, Gran Turismo 6.)

What can I say about Gran Turismo 5, a game that was in development for five years; a game that charged $39.99 for its demo download three years ago?

Seriously.

GT5 EU Box ArtIs it cool?  Yes, it’s cool.  But then again, I grew up playing Gran Turismo — I probably racked up 100’s and 100’s of hours on Gran Turismo and Gran Turismo II alone (Gran Turismo III and IV, I never played much, and I regret that — III was apparently one of the best games ever released on the PS2 during the 2000’s).  GT5 could be nothing more than a port of Gran Turismo IV for the PS3, and I’d still love it.  I’m probably not the best person to judge whether or not GT5 is cool.

Does it look good?  Yes, it looks great.

Does it have lots of badass cars?  Check.

By this point, with all the hype that’s been built-up about this game over the years; all the stories of just how maniacal the creator, Kazunori Yamauchi, was in making sure that GT5 was going to absolutely perfect; all the stories of how imaging each car for GT5 was taking 10 times as long as it took to image a car for GT4 (which itself took 10 times as long to image for as it did GT2)…

With all this hype, how could GT5 possibly make anyone happy?

The Bad

The loading times are horrendous. (Try about a minute of waiting, every time you start a race.)

The selection of cars is limited, and the “full resolution” cars, new for GT5, is maybe 10-15% of the total cars.  The rest are all ports of the GT4 cars, and the much poorer graphic quality of the cars can show.

The Good

All right, but it’s not all bad.  Most of the graphics look amazing on the PS3.  And finally, finally, FINALLY, there’s a multiplayer network option!

Yes, the dreams you had when you were younger of playing Gran Turismo verses races from all around the world is true, and it’s great.

Not only that, but you can play with your close friends and family on the Playstation Network, and can gift cars to them (great for giving your fiends a leg-up when they first start playing).

Final Word

Is it worth it?

If you want to play Gran Turismo on the PS3, it’s the only way to do it (unless you’re going to pop in an old copy of Gran Turismo 1 from the PS days).

Was it worth the wait, though?

No — no game should take five years to come out, past the point of the first demo.  No game should ever charge for a demo (and nearly a full price charge, too).

Ugh.  Just ugh.

Review: The Peripheral

The Peripheral
The Peripheral by William Gibson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Probably the book I’ve most loved from William Gibson since his earlier work — while not giving up on the, ahem, “different” style from his later work, he seems to have blended it with the futurism of his earlier 80’s work to make something entirely new and refreshing refreshing.

Taking place in two different times completely (15-20 years in our future, and about 70 years on from that), the book features the plot device of time travel, but in a way that doesn’t break the laws of causality — each world is more like its own universe within the multiverse. The denizens from the earlier time are used as a form of labor — think Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

While all of Gibson’s books seem to end suddenly, leaving you wishing they’d go on for just another 40-50 pages, this one is especially so — I haven’t been reading a book and wanting it *not* to end this bad in a long time. The world that Gibson has created is just so rich.

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Review: Titanicus

Titanicus
Titanicus by Dan Abnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not a bad tale of the Adeptus Mechanicus — there aren’t too many books in the 40k universe written about them, though they’re a huge part of the lore of this literary universe (standing quite a bit higher than the Astartes in the hierarchy of how things are run in the Imperium of Man).

Titanicus deals with some of the usual things you might expect to find in a book about the Mechanicus — the politics of human-augmentation in a society that seeks species purity, the way the masses see the Mechanius as distant, aloof, etc — and some of things you would rather not see explored too far, like the relationship between the God-Emperor of man (a being exalted as a living/dead god who sits on a golden throne on the Earth) and the Omnissiah (the being who the Mechanicus are allowed to worship simply because everyone has decided to look the other way and just claim that it’s obviously another avatar of the God-Emperor).

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Review: Small Gods

Small Gods
Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not bad — I’d never read anything by Terry Pratchett before this. I like his style of writing, and the ideas brought up here and there in the book regarding religion are thought-provoking.

Sadly enough — because I really wanted to really like this book — I’ve never been a fan of the “all satire/funny” style of writing. Give me some Heinlein (with the witty banter of his characters) or something more modern like John Scalzi (who’s a LOT like Heinlein in how he writes) and I’m fine, but the type of writing in Small Gods (or something similar like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) just bothers me. I’ve never liked it.

Maybe when you try for the joke-a-minute style of writing that sometimes it can’t help but seem forced, or the jokes kind of just start losing their funniness after a litle while (I had that problem with Hitchiker’s Guide — near the beginning, I’m literally laughing out loud while reading, and about 2/3 of the way in, I’m like okay, get on with the story).

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Review: Pandora’s Star

Pandora's Star
Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now, this is one of the best new SF books I’ve read in a while.

An interesting story of a quasi-utopian future that suddenly meets with danger out amongst the stars, the “Commonwealth” series of novels by Peter Hamilton tell of a future mankind that never really takes to the stars in a great diaspora via starships — instead, mankind stumbles across the ability to open up instantaneous wormholes relative to where they’re currently located, at least across a few light years. The ability to do this is a closely kept secret of the team that first invents it, so, while they remains quite generous with the opening of new wormholes for mankind, the progression of man amongst the stars continues in a very orderly, organized fashion for about 400 years or so, with new wormholes opening up only after many, many committee meetings and discussions.

It is only when an interesting astronomical event occurs far outside the reach of any wormhole, that starships are finally created (using a sort of “progressive” opening and reopening of the same wormhole technology) to travel the far distance necessary to observe it up close. However, what they find was probably better left alone.

One of the most interesting things about the future in this universe is just how normal everything remains compared to modern day — there’s still a stock market, there’s still large companies (only now they’re multi-system instead of just multinational) — there’s even still a middle class. People can live much longer thanks to rejuvenation and body cloning techniques (given enough money, an individual can be nearly immortal), and you can securely back up your memory to a bank in case of complete body loss.

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Review: Embassytown

Embassytown
Embassytown by China Miéville
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not bad, Mr. Mieville, not bad. I didn’t know if I’d like a non-Bas-Lag book by China Mieville, but Embassytown was a very interesting world.

Set in a world far, far in the future long after the human diaspora (after faster-than-light travel is discovered), Embassytown tells the story of a group of humans who have taken residence on a planet inhabited by a race they call only the “Hosts.” The name is given in deference to the permission the humans have obtained to live on the Hosts’ planet — a permission obtained with some difficulty, since the Hosts’ do not recognise other creatures than themselves as being sentient.

There’s also a brief B-plot about the “Immer,” which sounds a lot like the “Immaterium” present in the Warhammer 40K universe… :p Basically it’s a sort of sub-space that a craft can enter to travel long distances — very, very long distances, such as from galaxy to galaxy, halfway across the universe. The main character is one of the rare people who can pilot ships through the Immer, as most peoples’ minds go “slack” and they vomit uncontrollably the entire time they’re inside of it.

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Review: Heavy Time

Heavy Time (Company Wars, #1)Heavy Time by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

God, I can’t get enough of CJ Cherryh’s world. This book follows the life of a group of miners who live their lives in the “Belt” here in our own solar system. The theme of “heavy time” — necessary time they must spend in 1g gravity aboard space stations in between mining runs (there’s no artificial gravity in this world) — is ongoing throughout the novel.

It’s a story set in the time before the Company/Union wars, when life was tough for those ruled by the Earth Company, and personal ships in the belt were largely at the mercy of directed “beams” of energy (caught by large sails) sent from mining station HQ’s. The people are hesitant about the future — they know the strength of the Union that lives in the “Beyond,” as they call it, and they live in constant fear of some great big rock being dropped into their system at relativistic speeds, aimed straight towards Earth.

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Review: Towers of Midnight

Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time, #13; A Memory of Light, #2)Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Was a very good book — very good continuation of the last one that focused mainly on Rand (this one was all Mat and Perrin). Like I’m sure some others may feel, I felt that the final, glorious showdown between Mat and those that lived in the world of the Aelfin and Eelfin was a little… rushed. Still good, just rushed. I mean, we had been waiting for this showdown and the possible rescuing of Moraine for a long, long, long time (when did she disappear — the bloody 5th book?)

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