Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Links – Joe Abercrombie

Posted: February 3, 2014 in Books

Quite simply Joe Abercrombie is my favourite author and has been for some years. I first encountered his offerings when the Fair One brought home a book she had seen lying about in Waterstones entitled The Blade Itself.

BladeItself

I took a quick look at the blurb and decided straight away this was more my kind of thing than hers:

  • Science Fantasy – check.
  • Characters with silly names hailing from ridiculous sounding locations – check.
  • Not a standalone book, its part of a trilogy – check.

The Fair one was having none of this and pointed out the book also had:

  • A somewhat dark nature (how many books start with a ‘hero ‘ who is a torturer?) – check.
  • A definite dark sense of humour throughout – check.
  • No ‘cute’ races like hobbits, kender, faeries or windlings. So it can’t possibly be fantasy – check.

We agreed to share the book. This was back in 2006, we haven’t missed a book he’s written since then. If you look closely at the picture above you will see the quote from The Guardian – “Delightfully twisted and evil.” That sums it up pretty well. The traits of all Abercrombie’s books include a dark humour throughout, a wonderful turn of phrase and characters with as much (if not more) darkness to them as they have redeeming qualities. You won’t find a Legolas in any of his books, but certainly a few characters that would give the Lannisters a run for their gold.

I’d suggest you buy them and read them in order as the characters from one book tend to appear in later ones.

Abercrombie is changing things about a bit for his next book – Young adult fiction. ‘Half A King’ already written, comes out in July. This should be an interesting departure for him. He’s already addressed fan concerns on his forum that just because its Young Adult doesn’t mean it can’t be dark and twisted too. I’ll be curious to see how that goes.

You can find Joe Abercrombie on Twitter under @LordGrimdark and that’s well worth following. Especially for the 1-star reviews of his books he tweets excerpts from e.g. Today’s 1-star: ‘This book killed a small part of my inner child.’ If you have an inner child then keep them the fuck away from an Abercrombie book, go give them some fairy tales or similar. Unlike a lot of authors Abercrombie doesn’t just use social media to push his products but he opines on all sorts of everyday stuff, usually with good comedic value. His blog is good value too, with lots of variety – games, TV, whiskey deathmatches and even the odd bit about what he’s writing.

If I still haven’t convinced you to get some of his books then all I can say is think of George R R Martin with more (dark) humour and a plot that knows where its going.  If you like Game of Thrones, then you can’t fail to like this too.

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Not a title I would have chosen for myself, but it was a Xmas pressie so decided to give it a go. The book is the basis for the film Captain Phillips.  Richard Phillips was the captain of a merchant ship which was captured by Somali pirates in 2009. The book deals with the events just before, during and just after the hijack.

captainsduty

The first person narrative tone takes a bit of getting used to. It’s done in the way as if Phillips was sitting across a table from you telling what went down. That’s got its good and bad points. In some ways the words and language he chooses are very homely and to a non-American at times just plain irritating! But at the same time it also comes across as very natural. There are quite a lot of anecdotes about his life prior to the incident and again its down to the reader whether these are endearing or annoying.

To be blunt about it I found Captain Phillips as a person to be someone with whom I have nothing in common at all.  If we met in a bar we’d struggle to find common grounds for conversation.  So putting Phillips as a person to one side , what’s he like as a captain?

This was where the book really improved. I know nothing at all about merchant ships other than they are the big things on the water moving stuff about. Phillips did a superb job on conveying what was happening on the ship without being too techy, but managing to get his meaning across clearly.  I was slightly apprehensive about the ‘ship’ aspects to the book before reading it. Would I get lost in the detail and end up just giving up? No fear. It was all handled briefly and interestingly.

Phillips the captain is quite a character. He is the hero of the book, yet as he writes  he comes across as a pretty humble guy and that balances up with the homeliness of the more personal chapters. While dealing with the pirates he manages to outsmart them most of the time and it pretty obvious he’s extremely competent as a captain.

I liked that he included details of what his mistakes while dealing with the pirates were and also what he was thinking when he made those mistakes – and oh yes, he made a few. There were certainly a couple of things which seemed blindingly obvious to me which he just didn’t think of. Yet at the same time he came up with some things I’d never have thought of in a million years.

Being so clearly based on an actual incident there is no major surprise in the ending. The intriguing thing is how the journey to that end point was made.  The book is not overly detailed, it comes in at just under 300 pages with some pretty big spacing, so it’s not exactly challenging on either the eye or the brain.

Overall verdict: I’m glad I’ve read it, it was enjoyable but I can’t ever see me reading it again. Quite a page tuner but you get through it pretty quickly. Rating – 3.5/5. Good, worth reading but far from challenging. A pleasant way to spend a couple of hours but it won’t exactly change your life.

A rather short but interesting read by Damian Thompson which ticks the boxes of your middle-aged cynic.

counterknowledge

The premise is pretty straight forward, it’s an attempt at highlighting some of the main sources of ‘pseudo-science.’ A couple of examples being ‘Intelligent Design’/Creationism and homeopathy. Thompson throws a few more into the mix but you get the idea. The book does this pretty well illustrating the tricks the guys behind this kind of marketing use to get their message across. The attempts at passing off anecdotal opinion as being genuine fact and in some cases just plain old outright lying because it suits their message better than the truth.

Thompson also does well by illustrating these activities and in some cases how well they have infiltrated modern belief. He cites some great examples of people being scared to call ‘bunkum’ on the those issuing this kind of bullshit in case they appear politically incorrect and in some cases racist. I particularly liked his point that by calling out a Holocaust denier the world would pat your back, but call out a black person who has written an inaccurate account of African history and suddenly you’re looking at a very different can of worms.

It’s an interesting subject and the author makes some great points, so it’s a good read then, right? Alas, not quite so much. It’s certainly an interesting read and I’ll always find time for someone prepared to hit out at Creationism being passed off as science. I really liked the subject, but despite this the book didn’t really grip me. Somehow it felt a bit dull. I can’t help but think the books put out by the very people he would try to expose as ‘quacks’ and snake-oil salesmen would have been better written, and that’s just one of the reasons they will still continue to sell, no matter how little truth is in them.

Final verdict: 3/5, short (140 pages plus references), worth a read but not worth paying full price for.

I’d read the biography of Steve Jobs a while ago and I had been meaning to read the book about the ‘other guy’ behind Apple for some time. It’s safe to say Jobs gets most of the headlines when it comes to information about Apple, but Wozniak’s contribution was every bit as important, so I started this book with high hopes. I even read it on my iPad.

iWoz-313387

The book started with the usual biography stuff, early family details, school etc. From there it was into college life, how he met Jobs, the formation of Apple and the launch of Apple up to the initial IPO.Thereafter it was about what Steve or ‘Woz’ as he seems tobe known did next. The first ever universal remote control and Rock concerts that lost a lot of money.

Overall I  was disappointed with the book. Whereas Jobs biography was written by Walter Isaacson and was done in a compelling style taking the reader seamlessly through Jobs life, this read like a bunch of episodes loosely linked together. I found the writing rather bland and far from gripping.  Which considering Wozniak’s part in the Apple story, was almost surreal. There was a real story to be told here, but this book just didn’t do it.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Jobs was the moneyman, the frontman  and driving force through marketing that made Apple great. Or at least made it a phenomena – Wozniak was the engineer who designed the Apple Mac and who’s goal to produce a low-cost computer that everyone could use was years ahead of the competition.  Without his engineering prowess Apple would never have designed the items that sold so well.

The book uses lots of engineering terms which are nicely explained and it comes across quite clearly that Wozniak loves engineering, but does little to make these things as interesting as they could have been.

Wozniak, from the book, had little interest in money and would have been happy to have all but given away the design breakthroughs which made Apple rich. The feeling I got from reading was there must have been some wild ‘discussions’ with Jobs about how the company should do things and these are hinted at but we get little detail. When Wozniak left Apple, he complains about what the press said and how they got it wrong. He doesn’t really go into detail as to why he did leave, ‘I just felt it was time to move on’ seems very lame. Why Woz? Why did you feel it was time to move on, what had changed, what did you try to do about it? All unanswered, barely mentioned.

I got the feeling the book went out of its way not to upset anyone and this robbed it of a lot of its potential. I wasn’t expecting scandalmongering but I was expecting a little more than ‘nice’.  There is also a bit of an ego to Wozniak, he talks at some length about doing things which lost large sums of money. But it was all worth while for the pleasure it brought people. I can accept that up to a point but this feels laboured. Especially when any form of Jobs/Wozniak confrontation is either glossed over or missed out altogether it just doesn’t sit right. Instead any failures financially after he left Apple are put across as not being about the money anyway, it reads a bit like he’s ‘beyond money’ and it’s almost a charitable event instead. Yet it doesn’t ring true. He didn’t stage concerts to make money, that’s true, but did he stage them to lose millions either. Yet rather than deem them failures he puts across that they were success because it wasn’t about the money anyway. To me its justification for the failure (to make money/break even) is ‘oh well it wasn’t about that anyway’.

So what do we end up with:

Steve Wozniak

  • A nice guy. Check
  • More generous than Steve Jobs. Check
  • A brilliant engineer. Check.
  • Tells a compelling story. Nope

The biggest disappointment in all this for me was I couldn’t help but thinking a more honest story with less whitewash would have been a compelling story from start to finish. I think ‘I Woz’ was a bit of a missed opportunity. At the end of the book he says it took him this long to tell his side of the story as he wanted the facts put across accurately. I think instead we got some of the story of Wozniak and the other bits with a better writer would have been downright fascinating.

Score 6/10.