maandag 31 juli 2017

"Ex Machina" (Star Trek) by Christopher L. Bennett

"'It is illogical,' Spock countered, 'to disregard the role of emotion in sentient thought. Emotions evolved for a reason; logically, they must serve some practical function.'"

One of the countless Star Trek tie-in novels. "Ex Machina" takes place right about where Star Trek: The Motion Picture ended and focuses on the ramifications of the events described in the movie. It is also a sequel to the TV episode "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky", so if you want to read this book, it might be a good idea to (re-)watch these.

Bennett summarises the aforementioned movie and describes how the events have changed the main characters. Spock's encounter with V'Ger has motivated him to look for a balance between living with emotions and controlling them. Kirk is dealing with the guilt he is feeling for the crewmembers that were lost during the mission. And McCoy is still not certain if he wants to stay in Starfleet. The other regular characters also get their bits in the limelight, just like new characters that were introduced in the movie and some new characters the author introduces. It feels a bit crowded for a mere-377 page novel. And then there's the new story which harkens back to the episode mentioned above - this is an often used Star Trek theme of what religion can cause if fanatics want to take over. There are also lots of references to other Star Trek episodes and novels - only Star Trek die-hards will probably find all of them.

It's clear that Bennett tries to to a lot of things in this novel and maybe that's a bit over-ambitious. There's very little of an actual story here. It is very much a novel about the more cerebral aspects of Star Trek and about characterisation; if you expect more action, I suggest that you look elsewhere. I quite liked this one, by the way.

Author: Christopher L. Bennett
Title: Ex Machina (Star Trek)
Publisher: Pocket books, New York
Year: 2005
Number of pages:  377 p.
ISBN: 0743492854

vrijdag 28 juli 2017

"Een krans om de maan" van Clem Schouwenaars

"Goed eten, goed drinken, goed vogelen. Dat zijn de drie belangrijkste dingen in het leven."

We volgen leraar Michel Oostkamp tijdens enkele dagen rond de allerheiligenvakantie. Zijn relatie met een getrouwde vrouw is net beƫindigd en hij is single en eenzaam. Hij bezoekt verschillende mensen: zijn moeder, zijn zus, vrienden, een collega ... en observeert het leven van ' de anderen' - echt contact kan hij niet met hen maken.

Dit is een roman die gaat over de eenzaamheid. Er gebeurt bijzonder weinig. Oostkamp doet bijna letterlijk niets dan 'eten, drinken en vogelen', zoals hij het zelf omschrijft. En als dat gegeven je weinig interessant lijkt, dan heb je nog niets van Schouwenaars gelezen. In zijn typische stijl trekt hij ons mee in de gedachtegang van Oostkamp. Als lezer kruip je in de huid van het hoofdpersonage, beleeft zijn eenzaamheid, voelt zijn weemoed en begrijpt zijn cynisme. De roman laat vooral een trieste indruk na.

Auteur: Clem Schouwenaars
Titel: Een krans om de maan
Uitgeverij: Hadewijch, Schoten
Jaar: 1985 (oorspr. 1971)
Aantal bladzijden: 199 blz.
ISBN: 9070876221

woensdag 26 juli 2017

"Eeny Meeny" by M.J. Arlidge

"Sam is asleep. I could kill him now. His face is turned from me - it wouldn't be hard. Would he stir if I moved? Try and stop me? Or would he just be glad that this nightmare was over."

People are getting kidnapped in pairs. They're locked up, given a gun and a choice: if you kill your partner, you'll be set free. If not, you'll both die of hunger and thirst. The work of a very sadistic -female- serial killer. An extremely difficult case for D.I. Helen Grace, especially when she finds out that she knew some of the victims personally.

"Eeny Meeny" is the first in a series of seven (and counting) about D.I. Helen Grace. It caused quite a stir when it was first published. I have to say I'm not quite sure why. Sure it's an easy read, but then for me, there was absoultely nothing that made it stand out from countless other thrillers. The very short chapters and many changes in point of view make this a quick read, but also make it seem very fragmentary. There's very little that's original and character development is just about zero. I never could relate to the protagonist, and the other characters are all rather flat, so that didn't help. Furthermore, some of the events were really a bit far fetched. People surviving without water for two weeks? I don't think so. Sabotaging a car's petrol tank, so that it runs out of fuel at exactly the place you want? Not very likely. Someone chewing their fingernails to the blood, and then being found with long, dirty nails? Oops.

Still, all in all it's a decent thriller, just nothing really memorable.

Author: M.J. Arlidge
Title: Eeny Meeny
Publisher: Penguin, London
Year: 2014
Number of pages: 421 p.
ISBN: 9781405914871

zondag 23 juli 2017

"Revelation Space" by Alastair Reynolds

“The human capacity for grief. It just isn't capable of providing an adequate emotional response once the dead exceed a few dozen in number. And it doesn't just level off—it just gives up, resets itself to zero. Admit it. None of us feel a damn about these people.”

Human colonists are settling Resurgam, the homeworld of the Amarantin, an alien species which was wiped out completely thousands of years ago. Dan Sylveste is an archeologist who is investigating an ancient Amarantin city. He finds out that the very thing that destroyed Amarantin civilization, might still pose a threat.
Ilia Volyova is a crew member of the giant spaceship Nostalgia for Infinity, and is looking for Sylveste, who she thinks can help her captain, who has been infected with a strange virus.
Ana Khouri is an ex-military, now professional assassin, who is hired by the mysterious 'Mademoiselle' to murder Sylveste.
The three stories blend together as Sylveste tries to escape his fate, while at the same time trying to find a cure for the Nostalia's captain and finding out what led to the Amarantin's demise.

An intriguing novel. A quote from fellow author Paul McAuley describes this book as 'cybergoth space opera' and that is an excellent description. There's the universe and time-spanning scope, the cyberpunk factor and a touch of horror. This is so-called 'hard SF', which means there's a lot of focus on technology. It's pretty tough to get your head around the weird science fictional concepts in this book. Ultimately, this is what started to put me off a bit. For me, the book could have done with about 200 pages less, which would have helped the story develop more fluently. A case of 'a touch too much'. It has to be said, though, that this 'hard SF' is usually not my thing, so I'm sure afficionados will love the stuff. Still, I quite enjoyed the book.

Author: Alastair Reynolds
Title: Revelation Space
Publisher: Gollanzc, London
Year: 2013 (orig. 2000)
Number of pages: 598 p.
ISBN: 9780575129061

zondag 16 juli 2017

"A Burnt-Out Case" by Graham Greene

"Liking is a great deal safer than love. It doesn't demand victims."

Querry is a famous architect who is tired of life. He doesn’t feel anything anymore, no drive for his work, no love, no faith - he has nothing more to live for. He escapes the misery of his life by travelling anonymously to a leper colony in the Congo, where he just wants to be left alone. But his intentions are misunderstood - people start believing he's a hero for leaving a successful career behind and helping the lepers. Before to soon a journalist arrives who wants to tell Querry's story to the world. While Querry was gradually starting to heal, tragedy now looms.

It's interesting to see how Greene compares Querry to Deo Gratias, a native who has been diagnosed as a 'burnt-out case' - a leper who is pronounced cured, because he has lost everything that can be eaten away by the leprosy. Querry's mental state is similar to this.

There's very little story here, but the characters are absolutely marvelous. Lots of very philosophical dialogue, but I wasn't bored for a minute. It's a deep-felt novel about suffering and happiness, love and loathing, religion and faith ... This is another of Greene's absolutely brilliant novels. There's very little story here, but the characters are absolutely marvellous. As with some of his other novels, it's very dark and depressing, but there's so much humanity in these pages that it's irresistable. Greene has definitely become one of my very favourite authors.

Author: Graham Greene
Title: A Burnt-Out Case
Publisher: Vintage, London
Year: 2004 (orig. 1960)
Number of pages: 192 p.
ISBN: 9780099478430 

dinsdag 11 juli 2017

"The Blood Cell" (Doctor Who) by James Goss

"'Oh, shut up. I do have charm. This is me doing charming. It just gets mistaken for indigestion.  Normally by Clara.'"

The Governor is running a high-security prison on an asteroid in space. He's having quite a lot of difficulties with Prisoner 428, who just won't stay in his cell and seems to ignore just about every rule the prison has. And then there's this stubborn young woman, who keeps on trying to get in touch with 428, although she's been told time and time again that visitations are not allowed. But then people start getting killed and soon, the Governor is quite happy that Prisoner 428 -who calls himself the Doctor- is around.

I used to read a lot of fiction tie-ins to movies or television series (Star Trek, Doctor Who, Babylon 5 ...) but I've discovered that, while these books are a nice way of expanding the backgrounds of these series, most of the stories are actally pretty lame. "The Blood Cell" is one of the better examples of "Doctor Who" books. The characterisations of the Doctor and Clara are well done, which is a must in this kind of fiction. Doctor number twelve is his sarcastic self and Clara is very recognisabe too. The bickering between the two is really funny. The beginning of the novel is exciting and the mystery builds up nicely. The fact that we see the events devoloping through the eyes of the Governor, makes this a quite original read. About halfway through, the magic is gone, though, and it turns into a merely good, but unremarkable story. Still, it wouldn't be a bad choice for Doctor Who fans who want to fill the void before the twelfth Doctor's swan song on television at Christmas.

Author: James Goss
Title: The Blood Cell (Doctor Who)
Publisher: BBC Books
Year: 2014
Number of pages: 252 p.
ISBN: 9781849907743

"King of Ithaca" by Glyn Iliffe

"The great beast shifted across the stone floor not two strides away from them. Eperitus realised this was no mere snake but an animal of supernatural proportions. Fighting the urge to take out his sword, he dared to turn his head and behold the full horror of the monster."

"King of Ithaca" is the first in the six-book series "Adventures of Odysseus", which retells the story of mythical Greek hero Odysseus. In the small kingdom of Ithaca, the deceitful Eupeithes threatens to overthrow the aging king Laertes. The best way of protecting Laertes's dynasty seems to be to put his son Odysseus on the throne, but most agree that the young warrior should find a wife first. The titular hero travels to Sparta in a bid to win Helen's hand - the most beautiful woman in the world - and gain the support of Sparta. But there are a lot of other suitors.

These days, there's a tendency in fiction to de-mythologise - ancient tales are told as if they were history, taking all supernatural elements out of the story (Bernard Cornwell's "Warlord" trilogy or Colleen McCullough's "Song of Troy" come to mind). Not so with this story. There are encounters with gods, clashes with giant monsters, love potions, people raised from the dead ... The author uses the myths to great effect, but adds quite a lot to them. In fact, most if this first book stems from the author's imagination (what's a kraken doing in a book about Greek mythology?). So this is not a series you want to read if you want to learn about Greek mythology. Read it as an exciting adventure or fantasy story and you'll be fine.

Author: Glyn Iliffe
Title: King of Ithaca (Adventures of Odysseus)
Publisher: Pan, London
Year: 2009 (orig. 2008)
Number of pages: 384 p.
ISBN: 9780330452496